Pawlenty's Budget Shorts Higher Ed
An investment in education, especially during difficult economic times, brings rewards far beyond the original down payment. Governor Tim Pawlenty says he sees higher education as a top priority, but his budget proposal and policies do not reflect this.
In his latest budget, Pawlenty proposes cutting $151 million in state funding from the University of Minnesota system, in addition to the $195 million that was cut from the U two years ago. In addition, if the governor's proposal is accepted, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities would also lose $146 million.
Pawlenty has constantly forced higher education institutions to either restrict tuition increases to the rate of inflation or raise tuition at exasperating rates. If tuition is restricted or capped, and the state does not step in with adequate funding, the institution is forced to cut staff and lose key faculty.
Robert Brunicks, President of the U, said that Pawlenty's budget "will impact the quality and affordability of the education we provide. It will impair our ability to serve as a job creation engine for the state through research and development. And, it will have an inevitable impact on our workforce, tuition and our ability to attract research grants."
Brunicks wants the U to become one of the top three research schools in the nation, but with the current budget proposal, Minnesota's public higher education quality is set to decline.
Both the U and MnSCU are opposed to the governor's proposed tuition cap. With a decrease in funding, Minnesota's schools would have no choice but to raise tuition. If tuition is capped, Linda Kohl, a spokeswoman for MnSCU, said the system would likely lay off hundreds of employees, cut programs and classes, and even close some campuses.
These policies are, in effect, forcing the state to lower higher education quality.
Curt Baker, a Carlson School of Management student and a member of the U's Senate Committee on Student Affairs, said the Governor's proposal falls short. "Higher education is crucial to having a strong economy locally," he said. "If higher education was truly high on the Governor's list, he would fund it. When you consider the current economic climate, it seems ridiculous that the Governor is cutting such a crucial part to the state's economic well-being."
Business leaders understand this as well. The BioBusiness Alliance, recently, released its roadmap for growth of life science markets in Minnesota, which includes medical devices, and renewable energy. The BioBusiness Alliance includes, among many others, Boston Scientific, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas, and the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.
The report echoed Brunicks sentiments that fully funded higher education is paramount to a local economy.
In order to maintain a healthy economy and stay on the forefront of scientific innovation, the alliance called for investment and expansion of public university programs. "The quality and quantity of human talent in a region are key drivers for economic growth," they wrote.
One specific proposal for the U is to "re-establish its premier status among universities by supporting research relevant to the medical device industry." To this end the state must increase funding for the U's Medical Devices Center.
The alliance also recommends that the MnSCU system "establish two-year technical degree programs as well as bachelor's and master's degree programs, to support workforce development and applied research in process development, which will strengthen the renewable materials industry." Minnesota is prime real estate for the renewable energy industry, and it is imperative that Minnesota does not fall behind in research.
Thankfully, Pawlenty's proposal is not the end of this process. Lawmakers must recognize higher education's importance to the future of our economy. It's time for Minnesota to invest in higher education. Governor Pawlenty may refuse his support but state policymakers don't have to yield.