UMN trims big budget request after Legislature leaves higher education out of spending bills

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After leaving the last legislative session empty-handed, the University of Minnesota is preparing another high-dollar – but less ambitious – state budget request for the upcoming biennium.

The U plans to ask for an additional $205 million in ongoing biennial funding from the state, which would be a 14.9 percent increase over the $1.38 billion it’s already due to receive in fiscal years 2024-25.

Officials say that would pay for half of the U’s growing costs, with the rest being covered by spending cuts and increased tuition revenue – both from higher enrollment and higher prices, although no specific proposal has yet been made on tuition.

“Given the current state of the state’s budget, the surplus that they have, this is the right time for them to invest more in the University than they have in recent times,” Myron Frans, senior vice president for finance and operations, told the U’s Board of Regents on Thursday.

The Legislature typically adopts operating budgets in odd-numbered years that include new money for higher education; even years are for bonding bills, which pay for construction projects throughout the state, including at colleges.

But last spring, despite a projected $9.3 billion surplus, state lawmakers failed to agree on either a bonding bill or a number of supplemental spending bills that would have boosted higher education funding, among other causes.

For next year’s legislative session, U President Joan Gabel is focused on securing $135 million in new state money for general operations and $70 million for these three priorities:

  • Greater Minnesota scholarships: A new $20 million-per-year program would give all Minnesota residents up to $4,000 to enroll at the U’s Crookston, Duluth, Morris or Rochester campus, plus smaller awards each of the next three years. While Twin Cities enrollment remains strong, the outstate campuses have struggled to compete for students.

  • Need-based scholarships: The U wants $10 million a year to expand eligibility for its Promise Scholarship to families making $140,000 a year, up from $120,000, while increasing each award by between $200 and $300 per year. The new money also would fully cover tuition for students from families making under $60,000, up from $50,000.

  • Public safety: Another $5 million a year would help the U hire more security officers and pay more overtime, as well as install new lighting and update security cameras and building access technology.

Gabel said state support is “essential in order to move forward” in those areas

That $35 million for scholarships and safety is a small fraction of what the U asked for in its supplemental budget request last December. That unfunded proposal sought $152 million for healthcare facilities, $85 million for environmental sustainability projects, $60 million for animal agriculture research and much more money for scholarships and public safety.

Frans said higher education accounts for 6.5 percent of the state’s budget, and Minnesota ranks 19th among all states in per-capita support for higher education, down from a high of 5th in 1990.

He said the U has made up for that decline in support by cutting spending, raising tuition and securing more research grants.

“This balancing act becomes more difficult every year,” Frans said.

Besides the operational funds, the U is preparing a request related to building improvement projects in case lawmakers take up an overdue bonding bill in the spring. The U, which sought $200 million for “asset preservation” last year, hasn’t yet updated its cost estimates.

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