Senate higher education omnibus bill

The Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy committee walked through their higher education omnibus bill this afternoon. Included in the bill is $46.9 million for Minnesota State. Of that amount, there is $22 million for NextGen, $11 million each year, of which $11 million is base funding. This compares to the $10 million included for NextGen in the House bill, of which $8 million is in the base.

There is $15 million in new funding for workforce development scholarships, $2 million the first year of the biennium and $13 million the second year. The bill also amends the workforce development scholarship program to include additional programs of early childhood and transportation. It also allows Minnesota State four-year universities to be eligible for the program.

The Senate also funds the Board of Trustee’s workforce request at $3 million, $1.5 million each year to support local partnership programs at Minnesota State campuses. As for campus support, the Senate includes $4 million over the biennium.

The bill includes a tuition cap. For the four-year universities, the bill caps tuition at 2% both years of the biennium. For the two-year colleges, the bill caps tuition at 2% the first year and 1% the second year. The bill also caps online tuition, so that tuition for an online course cannot exceed the tuition for a comparable on-campus classroom course. There is also language in the bill regarding differential tuition. The bill allows colleges and universities to increase differential tuition in both 2020 and 2021 where costs for course or program delivery have increased due to extraordinary circumstances beyond the control of the college or university.

In the area of textbooks, different than the House bill that funds the open educational resource model, the Senate bill includes $500,000 over the biennium to fund the Z-degree textbook program. The bill requires each college to offer the opportunity to earn a Z-Degree. There is also language in the bill that requires faculty to review and approve open educational resources for use in a course, and there is further textbook language in the bill that establishes an inclusive access pilot program to address textbook affordability. The Office of Higher Education is to make a grant to a school in the Minnesota State system that currently uses inclusive access for at least 20 percent of the courses that use publisher materials.

And finally, there is $1 million in the bill for leveraged equipment acquisition, and the bill includes an increase of $600,000 each year of the biennium for supplemental aid for operations and maintenance at non-metro two-year colleges.

In regards to the State Grant program, the bill proposes an increase to the State Grant of $23.4 million. The Senate is proposing to reduce the assigned family responsibility (AFR) six percent, and increase the living and miscellaneous expense account (LME) four percent to 105 percent of federal poverty guidelines. In comparison, the House reduces the AFR by one percent in the second year of the biennium and increases the LME nine percent.

Similar to the House, the bill includes $200,000 each year of the biennium for emergency assistance for postsecondary students. This money is intended to be used to meet immediate student needs that could result in a student not completing the term or their program including emergency housing, food and transportation.

Policy areas in the bill include the language that requires providing notice to sexual assault victims on campus of legal advocacy services available to them. The House also includes this provision.

There is also language in the bill that requires the Board of Trustees to not settle employee contracts for more than is permitted under an agreement between Minnesota State and Minnesota Management and Budget specifying how appropriated amounts will be spent.

There is a provision in the bill that requires Minnesota State to collaborate with Northwestern Health Sciences University to develop a modified community health worker curriculum for Northwestern Health Sciences University to train and certify as community health workers.

And finally, there is language in the bill that requires both Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota to report on how each system would achieve a ten percent reduction in administrative costs and report back to the Legislature by July 1, 2020.

The full bill can be found HERE.

The $47 million in new funding in the Senate bill compares to $159 million in the House bill and $65 million recommended by the Governor. The House and Senate bills treat tuition differently. The House includes tuition freeze language but pays for that freeze with $149 million appropriated to Minnesota State. The Senate includes the tuition cap described earlier, and the Governor is silent on tuition in his recommendation.

Now that the Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy committee members have walked through the bill and listened to testimony, committee members will entertain amendments on Thursday afternoon and vote on the bill.

Vice Chancellor of Finance Laura King testified today on the Senate bill, and shared with members that Minnesota State has concerns about the campus support funding levels in the bill and with some of the language mandates that will have negative financial implications on the campuses.

As for the House bill, the House Higher Education Finance and Policy committee walked through their higher education omnibus bill yesterday and took public testimony. Chancellor Devinder Malhotra testified and thanked the committee on behalf of students, faculty, staff, and campus leaders for their historic support for public higher education in Minnesota. “We appreciate your recognition of the need to fund a tuition freeze. As we have testified several times this session, freezing tuition without providing revenue creates significant budgetary stresses for our campuses. Your bill gives Minnesota State the resources needed to freeze tuition while honoring our commitment to the success of our students, to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to the programmatic and financial sustainability of our colleges and universities,” Malhotra said.

Chancellor Malhotra also said in his testimony, “I want to acknowledge the amount of time you spent in committee learning who are students are and how we prepare them for both work and life. I appreciate the time you took to learn about the student experience and further your understanding of the importance of critical student services in order to make sure every student succeeds. We share the same priorities and transformative work and appreciate your partnership.”

House committee members took up approximately ten amendments today and after discussion, passed the bill. The House bill heads next to the Ways and Means committee Thursday morning. As a reminder, the House bill includes $159.5 million for Minnesota State, $114.1 million for the University of Minnesota, and puts $31.4 million into the State Grant program and other programs administered by the Office of Higher Education.

We will continue to provide updates on the status of both bills throughout the week.

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