Investing in Higher Education
Over the past four years, the DFL-led Senate has invested more than $443 million over base funding into our higher education systems. The DFL used 60% of this funding to freeze tuition at our state schools during the first biennium and freeze MnSCU’s tuition for parts of the next biennium. However, this progress could be reversed without continued investment. As we have seen over the past decades, when the systems do not receive needed funding they often raise tuition rates to make up for the funding difference.
- These strong funding levels have been passed with bipartisan support, however the DFL will need to hold Republicans accountable to ensure these investments continue to be a priority.
Despite investments into higher education, increases in state grant funding, and freezing tuition, student debt continues to be a major hurdle facing many graduates. Minnesota averages $31,526 in student debt, the sixth-highest in the nation.
- One way the DFL helped address this issue is by creating a state program to refinance high interest student loans. This program can lower payments immediately and save a borrower thousands over the duration of a loan.
We also created a first-of-its kind tax credits for graduate and parents paying off student loans. That was vetoed as part of the larger 2016 tax bill.
- We need to continue to fight student debt or it will continue to be a drag on the larger economy and prevent many hard-working Minnesotans from starting a family, buying their first home, or taking a risk and starting a new business in our community.
Fetal Tissue Research at the U of M
Issues surrounding the U of M’s use of fetal tissue for research came up in the press throughout 2016 and the university is now being sued over the institution’s use of fetal tissue from elective abortions. There are three state statutes that address the legality of fetal tissue research and this has created the disagreement about whether it is legal to use the tissue for research purposes.
There may be attempts to add clarity to the statutes, possibly explicitly prohibiting the use of the tissue in research, or attempting to further restrict the procurement processes in place at the U of M. The fetal tissue issue came up during the 2016 session when, as part of the House’s higher education omnibus bill, the House included provisions regarding fetal tissue research practices at the U of M.
The DFL actions on this issue:
- The DFL-controlled Senate allocated $4.5 million in 2014 to fund a partnership between the U of M and the Mayo Clinic for regenerative medicine research.
- In 2015, we requested the U of M hire additional faculty to conduct additional research in regenerative medicine.
- Regenerative medicine research is used to fight diseases and disorders including brain and spinal cord injuries, diabetes, heart disease, and retinal disorders. It also includes inherited diseases like Alzheimers’s, Parkinson’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease; and many types of cancers.
- These diseases impact Minnesotans and their families on a daily basis.
Minnesota Prosperity/Dream Act
In 2013, the Legislature passed legislation allowing undocumented immigrant students to be eligible for in-state tuition and state grant money. Republicans may attempt to repeal this legislation. Some believed at the time that it is not fair to use Minnesota tax dollars for students who are in Minnesota illegally. However, we know Minnesota’s economy will be facing a labor shortage in the coming decades and this is one way to ensure hard-working students are given the opportunity to succeed and contribute to the state’s economy.
The DFL supported this issue because:
- There is a very low percentage of Minnesota high school graduates who are undocumented and only a fraction of that would attend college, even with in-state tuition. Therefore, the cost of this provision is minimal.
- Granting undocumented students in-state tuition gives these students an incentive for completing high school, attending college, and contributing to the state and the economy.
University of Minnesota Regents
This year there are four Regent seats up for election.
These are located in the second, third, and eighth congressional districts as well as an at-large seat. Also, Laura Brod has not submitted an application for reappointment.
The Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC) will meet in early January to interview candidates. The RCAC has to make their recommendations to the Joint Legislative Committee (House and Senate members from the higher education committees) by Jan. 15. The Joint Committee must meet by Feb. 28 to consider the RCAC nominees. At this time, candidates who have not gone through the RCAC process may be considered. In order to be considered at Joint Committee meeting, the candidate needs the support of two Senators and three Representatives. The Joint Committee must recommend one candidate for each open position. Once the recommendations are made, there is a Joint Convention of the two bodies where a majority vote decides the winner. There is also an opportunity at the Joint Convention for candidates to be recommended.
MnSCU v. U of M
Over the past biennium, we saw a growing divide in the appropriations going to Minnesota’s two higher education systems. In 2015, the U of M received $53.2 million, whereas MnSCU received $101 million. There was little progress toward parity in 2016. This trend may continue as the majority of MnSCU campuses are located in Greater Minnesota and the U of M is thought of as being only in the metro, despite having four campuses in Greater Minnesota.
- The DFL has been a champion for all college and university students, not just the ones going to school in their districts. This is why the Legislature, under DFL control, froze tuition and invested in all of our public college and university students.