Hoping to benefit from the state’s historic $ 7.7 billion budget surplus, the University of Minnesota will seek nearly $ 1 billion in funding from the legislature next year.
The U’s large request for state funding of $ 935 million includes approximately $ 473 million to upgrade aging infrastructure at its five campuses, $ 185 million to improve campus safety and sustainability, and 65 million dollars to expand scholarship opportunities for students, among other proposals. This is an unusually large demand that is already arousing skepticism from some state lawmakers.
“A surplus of this size really is an investment opportunity for the future,” said U senior vice president for finance and operations Myron Frans, who was previously state budget commissioner. “We believe these programs and suggestions can really help Minnesota in the near future.”
The biggest budget surplus in state history comes as Minnesotans earn and spend more than expected amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers are bracing for an avalanche of spending proposals, many of which are larger than usual.
Colleges across the state are looking to the legislature for increased funding after suffering enrollment and income losses during the pandemic. Minnesota’s larger state system of 30 community colleges and seven universities is asking the legislature about $ 353 million next year, including $ 293 million for campus infrastructure projects and 60 million dollars to freeze tuition fees for a year and pay for operating expenses.
Minnesota State spokesman Doug Anderson said the system’s board had not revised its funding request since it was approved in November, before the projected budget surplus for the system ‘State not be revealed.
The U’s request includes $ 860 million in one-time investments and $ 75 million in annual recurring funding. The infrastructure portion of funding would help renovate buildings at all U campuses and fund the construction of a new undergraduate chemistry teaching lab on the Twin Cities campus.
University leaders are asking the state for $ 185 million to improve the safety and sustainability of its campuses.
Approximately $ 100 million would be used to upgrade security cameras, building access systems, street lighting and a new 24/7 campus security surveillance system. This funding would also allow the University of Minnesota Police Department to hire more officers to patrol the Twin Cities campus, which has struggled with high crime rates over the past year and a half.
“Students, teachers and parents are asking us to step up,” Frans said of campus safety. “And we feel the need to do it.”
The U Police Department is allowed to have 61 officers but only has 54, Frans said, citing hiring and retention issues. The university would like to increase the size of its campus police force to around 70 officers, Frans said, which is more comparable to universities in metropolitan areas of similar size.
Sustainability projects, for which the U is seeking $ 85 million, include the implementation of solar power generation on campus, the continued use of electric vehicles and the installation of heating infrastructure. and geothermal cooling, among others.
Many U students could end up receiving much more financial aid if the legislature approves a request for $ 60 million to expand scholarships.
The U is asking for $ 30 million in annual funding for its Promise scholarship program, which would raise the average price of students with the lowest family income from $ 4,000 to $ 5,300. Students moving up the income ladder would also see their scholarship amounts increase, and the program’s eligibility threshold would drop from $ 120,000 to $ 160,000.
The remaining $ 30 million would be used to create a new scholarship for Greater Minnesota to attract more Minnesota resident students to the Duluth, Rochester, Morris and Crookston campuses. Each Minnesota resident who attends out-of-state campuses will receive a scholarship of $ 3,000 to $ 4,000 in their first year and an additional $ 4,000 to $ 5,000 split between their sophomore and graduates. last years.
“We think this may be one of the best ways to increase enrollment at the other four campuses,” said Frans.
Other elements of the state’s nearly $ 1 billion request for funding include $ 140 million to build a 275,000 square foot health research center on the Twin Cities campus and $ 60 million to help build an agricultural research and education complex that would be used by both U and Minnesota state college systems.
House Higher Education Committee chair Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton praised the university’s “bold vision” for the future, but said it was unlikely to receive all it needed. request.
“It’s visionary and it sets a framework for evaluation,” said Bernardy. She added that lawmakers are expected to make higher education a funding priority next year as the state grapples with a shortage of skilled workers.
State Senator Jason Rarick, of R-Pine City, said he supports funding for new scholarships and improving campus security, including hiring more police officers. But Rarick, deputy chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, has said he will also want to examine how much the university is paying its trustees after President Joan Gabel received a large pay rise amid student objections. , staff and teachers.
Rarick also said college funding could play a key role in addressing the state’s current labor shortage. But the U will have fierce competition in this arena, as the state system in Minnesota, with all of its community and technical colleges, may be in a better position to produce skilled workers, he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of talk about this. How best to allocate dollars to manpower training? Rarick said.
Frans urged lawmakers to invest better in both college systems, as state support for higher education has not kept pace with inflation since the 2008 recession. In 2008, the annual endowment of the state of the university was $ 708 million. This year it stood at $ 713 million, Frans said, noting that the sum has much less purchasing power now than it was then.
“I think it can be argued quite convincingly, both for the State of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota, that the state can and, I think, should increase the amount of dollars allocated to these two systems, ”Frans said.