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2017 April 15 - 04:34 pm

Minnesota House Advances $3.2 Billion Higher Ed Plan

Spending Plan Would Freeze Tuition for Two-Year, Technical Colleges

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House has approved a $3.2 billion education bill that would freeze tuition next year for the state’s two-year and technical colleges but the University of Minnesota will likely see a tuition increase.

The bill passed in the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 77-53. Republicans said their bill helps students with rising educational costs through funding student debt counseling and a loan forgiveness program for agricultural, aviation and teaching jobs in rural Minnesota. It also creates a scholarship program for minority teachers and provides opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.

Republican Rep. Bud Nornes said the Legislature has a strong commitment to keeping costs low at state schools, denying Democrats’ claims that his bill doesn’t do enough to reign in schools’ price tags.

“This will be the sixth year in a row for a freeze for the two-year schools,” he said. “We have really done a lot to bend the curve and flatten that tuition.”

Republicans’ proposed $22 million for the University of Minnesota fell well short of the school’s $147.2 million proposal, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton’s $96.8 million. Earlier in the day, GOP lawmakers said the school had already committed to raising tuition, no matter how much the state awarded it, and that the school has never frozen tuition.

But University of Minnesota officials denied those claims, saying the school held tuition steady in 2013 and 2014 and its proposed numbers would have allowed for a freeze as well.

Two-year and technical colleges in the Minnesota State system fare better under the bill, with a tuition freeze planned for next year and a decrease the year after. Four-year state institutions, not including the University of Minnesota, would see tuition rise next year and stay steady the following year.

Democratic Rep. Gene Pelowski of Winona said the bill falls short of schools’ needs and fails to address high debt loads.

“Student debt, now, is higher nationally than credit card debt,” he said. “We are fourth and fifth in the nation in the amount of debt students carry and the number of students that carry debt.”

The Legislature balanced the budget in past years when there was a deficit by slashing funding for higher education, Pelowski said, which he blamed for the high debt numbers in the state.

Negotiations between Dayton and the Republican-led Legislature show signs of stark differences. Though the Senate has a slightly higher amount proposed for places like the University of Minnesota, the Legislature’s final number is sure to fall short of what the governor would like to see invested in the state’s higher education system.

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