Saturday, October 18, 2008

There He Goes Again

University of Minnesota Administration
Oblivious to Economic Reality ?

(The Junkyard Dog in the manger demonstrates that he has
learned nothing from events of last academic year.)

From the Star-Tribune:

DULUTH - The University of Minnesota Board of Regents unanimously approved a state budget request Friday that would increase tuition 9 percent for most students by 2011 and increase faculty and staff pay 6 percent over the same period.

U President Robert Bruininks acknowledged that the request may be a tough sell when the Legislature convenes in January, given the troubled economy and a state budget deficit projected to be at least $2 billion.

"This is a time to be tough-minded about Minnesota's future and not be timid," Bruininks told the board.

Several regents said the proposals represent a good plan, but they acknowledged it's a bad time to ask students and taxpayers to foot a bigger bill.

In recognition that the cost of a University of Minnesota degree -- currently about $40,000, not counting living expenses -- is spiraling out of reach of many, the proposal approved Friday includes $16 million to expand a tuition-relief program that essentially slows tuition increases for families making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. Bruininks said the program is projected to cancel next year's tuition increase for up to 9,000 students -- 30 percent of the system's undergraduates.

Still, most students won't qualify. Some, who have seen tuition increase an average of 8 percent a year for the past five years, said Friday that the increases would only add to increasingly dismal prospects of getting out from under crushing college debt while still young. Adding to the pessimism is that, until the economy improves, good jobs may be difficult to find.

Tuition now is about $10,000 per year for undergraduate state residents, up from $400 in 1970. Adjusted for inflation, that $400 would equal about $2,217 today. In 1990, tuition was $2,232, equal to $3,830 today. Officials say the increases have outpaced inflation so astronomically because the state reduced its share of university funding. The university's annual budget is about $3 billion.

Bruininks said the request will be formally presented to legislative leaders in the next two months, although some leaders already have been briefed. One of them, state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the proposal will face an uphill battle as the Legislature tries to make ends meet.

"I'm nervous about this whole session -- that we'll have to be in this cut, cut mode again," said Rukavina, chairman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Policy and Finance Division Committee.

But he added that "some people at the Capitol'' grumble that the university has gotten "too flashy" in using large amounts of bonding money in recent years for research facilities and stadiums and may have forgotten that the primary mission of a land-grant university is to teach students.

Unfortunately, said Rukavina, "the less we give them in the Legislature, the more they're going to nick the students, and they can't afford that, either. I've talked to students who say they'll never be able to pay back their debt."

From the comments section:

"Education is key to remaining competitive in the world. The more we shortchange ourselves today, the harder it will be to dig ourselves out 10 and 20 years from now. And it's not just the cost of tuition. As the U of MN seeks to become an elite university, it drives many Twin City students away to outstate colleges and universities where they must pay both tuition and dorm costs. Affordable tuition and access are both required. And where is the leadership that will drive this result?"

"I'm presently touring with my high school senior, in search of a school for next year. We really want to stay in Minnesota, but the truth is Wisconsin is 25% cheaper."

"Sorry but you are drunk if you think the U is getting $141 million in the upcoming legislative session. Unemployment is higher than it has been in twenty years. That translates into lower revenues for the state from income and sales taxes. Perhaps the University President missed the global economic meltdown. Time to live in the real world."

"This is absolutely outrageous that anyone has the chutzpa and gall to come asking the citizens of this state AND the students to fork over more of their money, especially in this climate."

"The objective of the sum of the parts of the U is to preserve and expand its administration. Control of ancillary items such as facilities, parking, human resources, printing, food service, housing and intercollegiate athletics are the focus of administration, not the education of students. And, as long as more money is available, the cost to attend the U and budget requests to the legislature will increase."

"It is a complete outrage with the economic situation we find ourselves in as a country and it is already really tough for us to help our child attend the U-this madness has to stop. Is it not part of the U's mission to educate?

"I saw Life Coaches (life coaches?) paid for the Dean and staff.
I watched one research scientist after another defunded or leave. However I did see a stadium built so people would have a chance to get drunk and train future pro athletes so we could pay them millions instead of paying teachers for our children. Nice priorities. Sure...enjoy the money. You know how to spend it."

"My advice to my legislators is going to be to say "No". The U needs to cut costs and play in the current economic situation with the rest of the state. And, if tuition is still raised...the U should be penalized by the legislature within the U's existing state budget allocations."

It is about time for the university administration to face reality.

We are a land grand institution and our mission is to educate the youth of the state. That education does, indeed, include research which is a wellspring of economic development in the state.

But currently we are suffering from inappropriate priorities. Which is more important: to be one of the top three public research universities in the world or to provide an outstanding educational opportunity that is affordable for the citizens of this state?

The answer is a no brainer.

Tom, Bob, your thoughts?

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