Higher ed officials worried about Pawlenty's budget cutsby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota college leaders say tuition hikes would be a last -- but possibly unavoidable -- option for coping with anticipated state budget cuts.
Top officials, including University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks, are pleading with state lawmakers to make shallower cuts than Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed.
Pawlenty's plan for closing a nearly $1 billion budget gap slices state aid to public colleges by about $54 million.
Bruininks says the university fully expects to face some aid reductions. But he says it will be tough to absorb a $27 million cut without laying off workers, stifling new investment in research and technology or raising tuition.
"I'm not coming here to tell you the University of Minnesota should not be part of the solution," he told a House committee that oversees higher education. "But I am coming here to tell you this cut is too deep."
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities vice chancellor Laura King also told the committee that tuition increases would be a last resort, but could not be ruled out.
"There is no way for us to remove this much money from the budget without a serious impact on students, on faculty and on the strategic initiatives that include providing the educated work force Minnesota needs," she said.
DFL Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said he thinks the governor's plan is unacceptable.
"Governor Pawlenty is going to have to -- to use a Range term -- belly up to the bar here and do something to solve this problem. Because his 'No new tax' pledge isn't working," said Rukavina. "I am not going to be the one who corrects the errors that have been made and again forces tuition increases back on these students."
During his budget presentation last week, Gov. Pawlenty suggested the university could trim its administration costs. A new report from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education found that tuition and fees -- adjusted for grants -- for first-year, full-time students in 2005-06 were $4,720 at Minnesota's public universities.
That's about twice the national average and slightly higher than its Big Ten peer states. Minnesota's two-year schools showed similar patterns.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)