Higher Ed bill passes floor; heads to conference committee

The Senate’s higher education omnibus budget bill passed with a floor vote of 38-29, with most DFLers voting no due to the bill’s low budget target and lack of funding for the coming two years.

The bill provides only $45 million in new funds for higher education and although it does increase the student grant amounts, it short-changes both the University of Minnesota and MinnState at a time when both systems have faced serious budget challenges due to the pandemic. The bill also makes tuition cut requirements without providing the funds to help the U of M and MinnState cover the cuts. While the U of M and MinnState are encouraged to use federal COVID dollars to cover potential budget shortfalls, it is unclear if that would be an allowed use of the money.

MinnState and the University investments are well below what both systems requested and what the governor proposed, with MinnState receiving $25 million despite a $120 million request. The U will receive $15 million and had requested $46.5 million. The governor proposed fully funding the system requests.

A DFL amendment that would require colleges and universities to honor student transcript requests even if they carried unpaid fees and fines to the institution was accepted during the floor debate. Transcript access has been an issue with students who owe small library fines and other fees being denied access to transcripts when they are applying to graduate school or for jobs.

Two DFL initiatives, Hunger Free Campus Grants to help students with basic needs such as food shortages, housing and transportation and the increased grants to the College Possible Program were included in the bill. A basic needs resource hub provision was also included to help a changing student demographic met the challenges of juggling college and daily life.

The bill now heads to conference committee and negotiations with the House.  (SF 975)