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University of Minnesota seeks $87M funding increase at Capitol

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler speaks about the University's biennial budget request at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The University of Minnesota is seeking an $87 million bump in state funding over the next two years, and even that won’t keep students from having to pay more for tuition.

University President Eric Kaler made a case for the increase in funding at the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 9, touting the university’s economic impact and bringing in students and faculty to speak to the work they do in the state.

But Kaler said the budget increase would not prevent an inflationary tuition hike for resident undergraduate students on the Twin Cities campus. Tuition would remain flat on other system campuses, he added.

“There’s always a very tight link between the state appropriation and the tuition rates,” Kaler said during a press conference. “Our legislative request is indeed restrained and reasonable, but also importantly it’s forward-looking.”

The $87 million increase would help fund campus operations and recruit and retain faculty and staff. The request is a roughly 7 percent increase to the two-year, $1.3 billion contribution the university gets from the state.

How decision may impact tuition

Even if the request is fully funded, Kaler said, officials expect a tuition increase of about 2 percent to keep pace with inflation. The tuition hike at the Twin Cities campus could be even higher if the request is not fully funded.

Kaler noted that this year’s budget ask is more modest. The university requested a $147.2 million increase to its two-year budget in 2017. Lawmakers funded just over a third of that — providing a $54.62 million increase.

University officials have raised tuition in the past when state funding fell short of what they asked for.

Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, chairs the Senate higher education committee. He said he will question university officials about the budget request when they present to his committee.

“We want to make sure that college is affordable to students and the families of Minnesota,” Anderson said. “We also want to understand why those costs continue to go up. This is our opportunity … to ask those questions.”

Improving aging buildings

The university is also asking for $232 million in capital funding to fix up aging facilities. That money would have to come from a public works borrowing bill, which the Legislature typically passes in even-numbered years.

“Our capital request is about renovating and restoring our 29 million square feet of space across our system,” Kaler said. “Our facilities — originally built with state funding — are in dire need of repair.”

The request includes $200 million for facility upkeep, $28 million to renovate and expand the Child Development Building on the Twin Cities campus and $4.3 million to modernize the A.B. Anderson Hall building on the Duluth campus.