As the calendar plows toward the May 19 deadline, MnSCU will find the outcome of their $142 million budget request in order to freeze tuition for the next two years, and avoid major budget cuts throughout the school system. MnSCU is seeking a 3 percent compensation increase, and a 3 percent increase for operating costs.
The $142 million budget requests and the pending tuition freeze, if granted the request, MnSCU would freeze tuition for the next two years making 2016’s tuition the same as it was in 2012, during the last tuition freeze. This is the focus of the higher education bill, a bill the Chancellor is watching very closely.
“We just got a very powerful endorsement from the governor,” Chancellor Steven Rosenstone said. “He agreed with the board’s request of $142 million. We are pleased, this is such a high priority for the Governor and we know that higher education is a high priority for the senate, though there are a lot of different versions of what that may be.”
Though the higher education bill is gaining support, it’s not over yet, and Rosenstone said, “I don’t have a clue, and the reason is the promise we have made to the board, to MSUSA [and] MSCSA, and to the faculty and staff unions is that if it looks like we’re not going to get the $142 million, we are going to come back and talk to you about it.”
“So, that’s not going to be decided without everybody being able to weigh in on it, and without there being a lot of consultation.” Chancellor Rosenstone continued, “but right now we’re working only on ‘Plan A,’ which is to go get $142 million.”
Last year, SCSU reported a $12.3 million loss in operation costs, and enrollment is projected to drop another 5 percent this year.
“I think the core of building enrollment is having great faculty, great programs and great experiences for students,” Chancellor Rosenstone said. Rosenstone said that he believes that SCSU does have those things. “But with that as a base, I think deepening partnerships with high schools around the region, and in the case of St. Cloud, be recruiting statewide and even beyond the state so everyone understands the quality of what’s there.”
When asked if he could point to anything in particular that might have set schools like SCSU in this situation, he said, “schools around the country have seen a dip in enrollment and enrollment is driven by two factors, economics and demographics.”
“The lower the unemployment rates, the lower the enrollment and what’s happening in St. Cloud is happening around the country in that many students who came to school during the depth of great recession have graduated, and many students who might have come in during hard economic times are going to work,” he said.
“The other part of it,” he continued, “is that Minnesota has seen a dip in the number of high school graduates, so more universities are competing for fewer students.”
Chancellor Rosenstone also mentioned the fact that SCSU has opted to defer students who may not be ready for the university to the technical college to get their basic courses completed first. A decision he says, “was a hard choice but a good choice. It’s fair to students not just taking them to fill up classrooms but enrolling students who are really prepared to succeed.”
When talking about preparing for future drops in enrollment, the Rosenstone said that, “the hope is that we are at the bottom of that dip right now.”
“When there are drops in enrollment given how much of the budget is coming from tuition, it hurts,” he continued. “It threatens programs and it threatens peoples’ jobs so what many campuses are doing, is doubling down on retention because if we help more students stay and finish their programs, our enrollments will be higher.”
“The session ends on May 19, so the last working day is May 18 before it’s over and we’re gonna fight like hell over the next sixty-something odd days to get this done.”