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Minnesota State requests funding to maintain 'workforce engine'

Minnesota House Higher Education Chairman Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said he trusts the funds requested by Minnesota State is only what is necessary. Here, he is seen in a January 2017 committee hearing. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis) 1 / 2
Minnesota state Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, said the requested additional funding higher education would help supplement tuition dollars as enrollment numbers recover at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He is seen here in a Janurary 2017 House committee hearing. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)2 / 2

ST. PAUL — Minnesota State colleges and universities administrators say additional spending is needed to help the state keep pace with growing workforce needs.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development projects that more than 70 percent of jobs in the state will require postsecondary education by 2020.

Laura King, chief finance officer with Minnesota State, said a requested $178 million in additional state funding over two years would help the state's "workforce engine" retain students and control rising tuition.

"We are a substantial provider of trained citizens into the economies all across Minnesota," she said. "Those citizens are increasingly diverse, the communities are growing increasingly diverse and our colleges and universities stand to provide a tremendous service to the communities in years ahead, but we need to be financially healthy to do that."

The additional funding would include $143 million in campus support to offset 3 percent inflationary costs each year. This portion of the funding would allow for a tuition freeze throughout the system, as well as a 1 percent tuition decrease at its community and technical colleges.

The added funding would also include $25 million for technology updates and $10 million for student incentives like grants and scholarships.

With the additional funding, the system's total askings from state lawmakers and the governor for the next two years would reach about $1.5 billion.

The proposal is from Minnesota State officials. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will release his budget proposal Tuesday, Jan. 24, and the Republican-controlled Legislature will draw up its own spending plan later. Lawmakers likely will pass their budget in May, sending it to Dayton for his signature.

Without the full proposed budget, Bemidji State University President Faith Hensrud said, the university would have to rely on funds that otherwise would be invested into programs that keep course offerings "relevant and viable" to evolving workforce expectations.

House Higher Education Chairman Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said serious decisions regarding higher education allocations will have to wait for the February economic and budget report. However, he said, he believes most representatives would see the new funding as a good investment.

"Between the University of Minnesota and (Minnesota State), it adds up to a pretty sizeable request," he said. "But we trust it's all needed. I don't think anybody comes here and asks for more than we need."