Sunday, April 15, 2012

The State of Minnesota & the University

The University of Minnesota is one of two of Minnesota’s public higher education systems, enrolling 69,221 students at five campuses across the state. The University is unique in that it is the state's only land-grant research university. 
Like many other public higher education institutions across the county, the University's funding from the state has decreased over the last several years due to budget deficits. Today, it is operating with state funding below 1999 levels. 

"In good economic times, states direct additional revenue to higher education. In slow economic times, however, higher education - more than any other budget item - suffers reductions," reports NSCL's Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher EducationA recent editorial explains how as enrollment has increased, state funding has decreased. As a result, the burden to fund our higher education system is put on students and families in the form of tuition increases.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education states, "Higher education is both the problem and the solution." The solution lies in higher education's ability to increase global competitiveness and drive the economy. For this reason, University officials have urged state legislators to recognize the system's economic impact; every dollar invested in the University generates $13.20 in the state's economy. This money is generated by jobs created by the U, purchases made by the U, and competitive research grants awarded to the U. 

Although the University is one of the state's most powerful tools that can be used to address its most pressing challenges, the University will face two major obstacles in the 2013 Minnesota legislative session. First, the state has a projected budget shortfall of $1.1 billion for FY 2014-15. After several consecutive deficits, Minnesota's budget has been cut to the bone and many creative, short-term fixes have been exhausted. In addition, the legislature will likely experience another significant turnover in leadership and membership. Over 30 legislators will retire and many of the remaining will face tough elections as a result of redistricting. As Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education states, "This lack of leadership and expertise is due in large part to increased legislative turnover." University officials will need to quickly educate new legislators before the 2013 legislature convenes to determine the FY 2014-15 budget. 

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