State support for public higher education in Minnesota has declined precipitously over the last decade. As recently a 2000, state appropriations covered more than two-thirds of the cost of education at Minnesota’s public colleges and universities. That support has eroded, and this year state aid is expected to provide only 43 percent of the total cost of attending college. During that same period, enrollment has at MnSCU institutions has grown 38 percent, from 114,199 FYE to 158,071 FYE.
As one might expect, the decline in state support has led to tuition and fee increases. Students at the states two-year colleges can expect to pay an average of $4,900 this year. Those attending four-year state universities will pay an average $6,600.
Tuition and fee increases are not the only way colleges have dealt with this drop in state allocations. Ridgewater has eliminated programs, laid off faculty, offered early retirement incentive packages to employees, not filled positions vacated by retirement or resignations, and made cuts to non-personnel budgets college-wide of nearly 10 percent.
The facts around this shift in higher education funding in Minnesota raise an important question—is higher education a public good worthy of state support or a private good whose primary benefit is the individual? If it’s a private good benefitting only the individual, one can make an argument that the individual should pay for it; however, if it’s a public good and all of us benefit from having well educated citizens it makes sense for the public to cover some of the cost of that education.
How much the state should cover is open to debate. Given that research from Georgetown University indicates that 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota by 2018 will require some form of postsecondary education, it seems that the future economic health of the state may depend on our answer to that question.
Our governor and lawmakers face a monumental challenge as they work to decide how to allocate a shrinking pool of resources. The decisions they make will either move us back to levels of support seen a decade ago, or continue our slide in the other direction. Regardless of the decisions that are made, Ridgewater remains committed to providing the highest quality education to the learners who come to us. After all, 2018 isn’t far off.