While additional tuition hikes would be his "last resort," University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks said that with proposed state funding cuts to higher education looming, it may be the only option.
A $27 million cut to the University from Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan to solve the state's $935 million deficit problem would have dire consequences for the University, Bruininks said at a House Higher Education and Workforce Development Policy and Finance Division hearing on Wednesday.
"If the cut's this deep, tuition must be a part of the solution," he said. "Tuition will be the last resort, and I'm hoping we don't have to go there."
With a proposed 5 percent tuition increase for middle-income students set to take effect next year, Bruininks said there needs to be cooperation to keep higher education affordable.
"To put higher education in front of the parade, in terms of cuts, is just not a very smart strategy," he said.
While admitting the University should share in eliminating the state's deficit, Bruininks said the current expectation is "disproportionate" and said there are other implications outside the realm of tuition increases.
The cuts would force the University to halt investment in research and potentially lay off employees because of the budget pinch, Bruininks said.
Despite tuition increase speculation, Pawlenty spokesman Alex Carey said the $27 million represents just 0.9 percent of the University's budget.
"The 'U' got a 17 percent base increase and still raised tuition 7 percent for the last school year," he said.
"They're not basing their tuition increases on anything having to do with the money they receive from the state."
In expressing his own opposition to the cuts, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia and chairman of the committee, used Pawlenty's own time at the University in the early '80s as evidence of onerous tuition increases.
University students pay three times what the governor paid when he attended the University -- and that's after adjusting for inflation, Rukavina said.
Making no secret of his distaste for the plan, Rukavina said he would not follow through with it.
"I'm not going to make the kind of significant cuts he's asking us to make," he said. "It's time for a new mindset."
In the past, the state has sought to pay 66 percent of a student's public education costs, Rukavina said, but now that figure is closer to 46 percent and that contributes to tuition costs.
In agreeing with Rukavina, Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said pricing students out of higher education can have future implications.
"We are really leaving behind a generation of students," she said. "We are here because we had opportunities given to us."
Another member of the committee, Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, had a more immediate take on the issue, saying college students shouldn't have to share in the state's burden.
"I don't think we should charge the student," he said.
© 2008 Minnesota Daily via U-WIRE