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Tuition Freeze All the Buzz at Legislature
MSSA Senator Casey Carmody testifies before committee at the capital.
by Jon Swedien
For those feeling the ever increasing burden of tuition and other hefty college expenses, there may be a bright spot on the horizon.
Or it may be just a mirage of political talk.
The potential bright spot (or spots) is a proposal for a tuition freeze in the state legislature and parts of the legislature have heard testimony from college students about struggling to pay for college.
On Tuesday, the Minnesota State College University Student Association, including Minnesota State student senator Casey Carmody, testified to the Higher Education and Work Force Policy and Finance Division of the Minnesota Legislature. Their testimony depicted their personal difficulties dealing with rising tuition and how it reflected the student population as a whole.
"I can't imagine that my story is entirely unique," Carmody said as he gave the public officials his personal story.
Carmody explained to the committee that his parents were unable to help him pay for college and he has taken on the financial burden himself. He has accomplished this by working as well as receiving grants and loans. Carmody says at this time he has accumulated approximately $30,000 in debt and expects the figure to rise to $40,000 by the time he graduates.
Carmody said he might have to change his initial plans for after college. Originally, he planned to enter directly into graduate school. Now he said he believes he will put that off in order to get a job and pay off some of his loans.
"After the tuition increase I have seen as a student and the student debt I will have to repay, I really can't help but wonder what price will tomorrow's students face if they decide to attend MSU Mankato or any other school in our system," Carmody said to the committee.
The student testimonies are a sign the state legislature is focusing on the cost of higher tuition.
Another sign is the talk of a tuition freeze.
Republican minority leader, Rep. Marty Seifert, proposed a one-year tuition freeze last Jan. 11.
DFLer Rep. Kathy Brynaert, Mankato's house representative, said college students, citizens and legislatures need to work out a long-range plan to make higher education affordable.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (Minnesota State), to which MSU belongs, approved a two-year $177 million-budget increase in November. This meant Minnesota State would increase its budget four percent over the next two years.
"The four percent tuition increase will result in an estimated $73 million in revenue for the colleges and universities over the two years." A Minnesota State press release said.
The Star Tribune reported Minnesota State's single year four percent increase would raise about $24 million for Minnesota State and $22 million for the University of Minnesota. It also reported that tuition in Minnesota State's four-year schools has increased 40 percent since 2002.
Minnesota State's Melinda Voss said it would be "a balancing act" if the legislature put a freeze on tuition but didn't allocate further funds to support Minnesota State.
"That would require program cuts," Voss said.
"We don't want to compromise any programs at the colleges," Seifert said explaining the legislature should "backfill" Minnesota State's funding for the one year.
He said the legislature could find money to pay for the approximately $46 million ($24 million for Minnesota State and $22million for the University of Minnesota) to pay for the one-year tuition freeze, out of the state's two billion dollar surplus. He said the legislature should freeze tuition for one year and then re-analyze the situation.
Brynaert is more skeptical about a freeze. She said she doesn't think a bill containing the freeze would pass through the legislature because the "funding isn't there."
"It's not a straight-forward issue," Brynaert said.
Brynaert said if there was a freeze on tuition and the state bought down the tuition for $73 million, funded Minnesota State's $177 million dollar budget increase for the next two years and did the same for the University of Minnesota, it would add up to approximately $475 million.
Brynaert said the legislature couldn't put this much into one basket when considering all the people with needs in the state.
Seifert calls his idea a "common sense" approach because it helps everyone and doesn't require "some monkey juice formula" involving trips to the financial aid office.
Brynaert said there isn't a single solution and there needs to be a "long-term plan" to make higher education affordable.
So although there is a bipartisan concern for the cost of higher tuition there isn't a bipartisan consensus on how to deal with the surge in tuition.
Nevertheless Carmody seemed upbeat about his experience.
Carmody said he was glad he got to go to St. Paul to talk to lawmakers.
"We got to give a voice to students," Carmody said. "I doubt they get to hear it enough."
Jon Swedien is a Reporter staff writer