College leaders: Budget doesn’t undo cuts
By Matthew Stolle
College officials are pleased with the 12.6 percent increase in funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
But they say that one good budget won’t undo the negative effects of several years of budget cuts or bare-bones budget increases.
"I think the challenge we have as a system and as a state is to really take a hard look at how we value public post-secondary education," said Jim Johnson, president of Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical. He noted that state statute sets the state’s financial responsibility for MnSCU at 67 percent, yet it has consistently fallen short of that mark.
Johnson said one of his main worries is that serial funding shortfalls have forced rising tuition costs that are beginning to price students out of a college education. He notes that for the first time in seven years, Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical experienced its first enrollment decline after years of strong growth.
"I really believe that part of that issue is the increased tuition," Johnson said.
That enrollment pattern was also echoed at Rochester Community and Technical College, which witnessed its first enrollment decline after a decade of robust student growth.
"We’ve always felt that one of the drivers was the higher rates of tuition increases finally kind of catching up with us," RCTC spokesman Dave Weber said.
Students seemed to be pleased that tuition increases are slowing, but they don’t want it to be a one-shot deal.
Ayan Adan, who will be an RCTC sophomore this fall, is of two minds about tuition at RCTC. She thinks RCTC offers a good deal compared to what other colleges charge. On the other hand, she can’t help but wish costs were lower.
Her hope for lower tuition is also tied to her desire to work in the medical profession, a goal that will require eight years of school, she estimates. Yet, even in the early stages of her college education, Adan occasionally finds herself "discouraged" by the continuous challenge of paying for the college courses she needs. She also hears students grumble about what they view as the growing costs of higher education.
"Hopefully, it won’t go higher than (3.5 percent) for years to come. That’s all we can hope for," she said.