“The Facts on Higher Education in Minnesota”Posted: July 2, 2011
Guest blog by Jeff Kolnick, professor of History, Southwest Minnesota State University
Radio host Gary Eichten interviewed the state conservative leadership on end of session politics in Minnesota. In an answer to a question on the wisdom of slashing higher education budgets, House Speaker Kurt Zellers commented that it’s troubling when you see that Minnesota “families have had a 30 to 40% pay cut and you see college professors get 20 to 30% increase in pay.”
It is hard to know where to begin analyzing Speaker Zellers’ comment. I suppose I will begin with the facts. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) faculty took a pay freeze over the last two years. In the case of state universities, the faculty union offered a freeze in collective bargaining! In 2011, faculty at the University of Minnesota had a pay freeze and in 2010 they suffered a 1.5% pay cut. Floating the idea that college professors received 30% pay increases is pure demagoguery.
Speaker Zellers chooses demagoguery over the facts because the facts on higher education are so bad. The legislative higher education bill is $9.4 million a year below what MnSCU received in FY 1999 when MnSCU received $549.9 million from the state. Since FY 1999, enrollment at MnSCU institutions grew from 106,827 (FTE) to 158,071 (FTE)—that is 51,224 more students that MnSCU is educating with $9.4 million less dollars from the state. On top of that, inflation has increased 28.2% since FY 1999 with no state funding to cover it. The drop in state funding has resulted in fewer college professors teaching more students who are paying higher tuition for larger classes.
At a time when almost everyone agrees that postsecondary education is the most important factor in global competitiveness, Minnesota’s commitment to higher education is slipping badly. The legislative magazine “Session Weekly” recently reported that Higher Education was 15% of the state general fund budget in 1987. By 2011 it was down to 8.8%. Under the proposed Republican budget, it would be down to 7.3%.
A 2010 “Congressional Quarterly” ranking on state per capita higher education spending showed Minnesota ranked 28th—behind our neighbors North Dakota (2nd), Iowa (7th), and Wisconsin (12th), and close competitor Michigan (14th). Minnesota was even below states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas!
Minnesota Governor Dayton has offered a balanced and fair approach to the state budget where painful cuts are mixed with higher taxes on the top 2% of income earners. Speaker Zellers opposes tax fairness and instead wants to cut government, including higher education. It is time for compromise instead of demagoguery on the part of Speaker Zellers and the new conservative majority.