Like many other caffeine-craving adults, Dean Johnson got up Wednesday morning and went to his local coffee shop. When he strolled into the Willmar caffeine house around 6:30 a.m., Johnson, who vice chairs the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents, was innocuously asked what he was up to that day.
As a matter of fact, Johnson and his fellow regents were set to vote on the U of M's budget.
“The first question was 'How much are you going to cut?'” Johnson recalled during the meeting.
But the better question might have been “How much more debt will my kid have?”
Golden Gopher lobbyists hit the Capitol during this year's legislative session looking for a $65 million bump in state funding. The process wasn't pretty and at end the school emerged with $33 million less than they were hoping for. A few hours after Johnson's java stop, the regents assembled in a campus boardroom to turn their thumbs up or down on President Eric Kaler's proposal to hike tuition to help cover the gap. The college boss wanted Minnesota students (and those with reciprocity) to pay 1.5 percent more in tuition, totaling $12,240. Meanwhile out-of-staters would cough up 7 percent more, or $20,660.
Among some in the circular chamber, there was an air of regret. Regret that the board hadn't started vetting solutions sooner or that there wasn't much data showing the impact of asking non-Minnesotans for more coin. No one was happy about raising the price of maroon and gold diplomas, which has been frozen since 2012.
“I'm having trouble understanding why we can't support a freeze with” current funding levels, said junior regent Michael Hsu. Somewhere in the university's $3.7 billion spending pool they could find $6 million needed to keep in-state rates the same, he argued.
“We can find that money in an infinite number of places in this budget,” Hsu said. “We have lots of places we can look for [the money] and we're not. That bothers me.”
Hsu and fellow regent Darrin Osha floated several proposals to decrease, hold, or lessen increases for Minnesota students, while lifting tuition for non-residents between 7 and nearly 13 percent. The U of M is in the Big Ten cellar when it comes to the differential between resident and non-resident tuition.
“I don't like the fact that the University of Minnesota is seen as cheap education among its peers,” Osha said.
However, their ninth-inning attempts were resoundingly smacked down and the board granted what many called Kaler's “balanced” proposal.
Johnson wasn't the only one lightening the stuffy, motion-approving meeting with morning stories. While he was getting dressed, Rosha's six-year-old daughter complimented the University of Minnesota regent's tie he put on before getting inquisitive. “She said 'Daddy, what do regents do?' … I said 'Well, I'll tell you after today.'”
On this day, they asked soon-to-be-debt-riddled college students paying in-state tuition for an extra $180 per year – $420 on average if they live on campus. Non-residents will pony up $1,350 more in annual tuition.
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