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House OKs higher education plan

ST. PAUL – Minnesota representatives approved increasing by $150 million spending on state colleges and universities.

“Higher education, perhaps more than any other area, has been neglected for a long time,” said Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake. “This increase will help make college more affordable for Minnesota students. We still have work to do, but this is a good start.”

The House voted 86-44 Thursday on the $2.7 billion funding plan that directs much of its money toward making college more affordable.

“Tuition and debt are the two biggest fundamental problems in higher education,” said bill sponsor Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona.

About $78 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and $42.6 million for the University of Minnesota is dedicated to tuition freezes in the next two years.

The systems would get about $1.2 billion and $1 billion, respectively.

The bill also includes about $18 million for a University of Minnesota research program and nearly $11 million for state grants and debt relief programs.

The public college and university systems must report more information to the state, such as specifics on expenditures and how state money is used, which Pelowski said will increase accountability.

“Our colleges and universities are facing the same scrutiny that our state agencies do,” said Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette.

Some lawmakers said they want even more oversight, and Pelowski said he will push for that in the future.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents must take official action supporting a tuition freeze before the state will give the money dedicated to that under Pelowski’s bill, he said.

“Last year the Legislature made record cuts to higher education in the state budget, and tuition has nearly doubled at state colleges and universities over the past decade,” said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter. “This is a great bill that will help our students and ensure that our higher education institutions are held accountable for the money they spend.”

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the bill generally was good but the spending was too high.

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