ST PAUL, Minn. — The University of Minnesota is now asking for more than a billion dollars from the state legislature.
About $950 million of it would be to buy its medical center on campus should the Fairview-Sanford mega-merger go through. But the UMN is also trying to make up money due to falling enrollment across every campus, that according to Rep. Gene Pelowski, has reached a crisis level.
"We need to address this now," said Democratic Rep. Pelowski, who serves part of southeastern Minnesota, including Winona County.
The shortfall could lead to rising tuition costs. As chair of the Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee, Rep. Pelowski had tough questions for the UMN that, just this month, revised its original January budget proposal, adding another $48 million to compensate for the declining enrollment.
"For the University, the question is: What took you so long?" asked Rep. Pelowski. "We need to address this now and that should have been what their budgets were about."
New data shows enrollment fell in the last decade at three of the five campuses. The Morris campus is facing the largest drop at 44.5%. Duluth fell 16.1% and Crookston fell 17.9%.
The Twin Cities is growing, but by only 1%, leading to a huge financial loss that, according to the UMN, is $24 million this year alone. That number even surprised the UMN Budget Director Julie Tonneson.
"Never in my all my 30 years have we run into a situation like this, where almost all units are falling short," said Tonneson at the latest Board of Regents meeting.
The UMN is asking for about another $40 million that would address a proposed tuition freeze and specific scholarships. It blames COVID-19 for some of the shortfalls, saying students who completed two years of schooling during the pandemic didn't come back for a third.
"Apparently they felt that a Zoom education wasn’t really worth that type of debt and that type of tuition," said Rep. Pelowski, who also said the UMN can no longer put this issue on the backs of students.
"What we have here is historic administrative lack of oversight," said Rep. Pelowski. "They should have been on top of this."
UMN leadership discussed their request Tuesday night with the Senate Higher Education Committee. A school spokesperson said, "We will defer to those public discussions with legislators for now," when KARE 11 asked for further clarification.
The school leaders will also meet Thursday with the House Higher Education Committee. Rep. Pelowski says they plan to discuss what happens if the legislature doesn't approve the funds.
Part of the UMN's two-year proposed budget includes 3.5% tuition increases each year and another proposes increases of 3.5% and 7.5%.
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