Lawmakers plan to use new money to freeze tuition for two years at Minnesota universities and possibly state colleges as well, pausing what had been a steady rise in prices.
Budget bills in the Legislature represent the first boost to higher education funding in eight years, lawmakers said. The Senate bill adds $263 million, the House bill $150 million.
Both bills pay for a two-year tuition freeze for University of Minnesota’s in-state undergraduates. But the two bodies disagree on the state’s other public higher education system, the Minnesota State College and Universities (MnSCU). The House bill, passed by its higher education committee Monday, ties all new money to a tuition freeze for those students, too, while the Senate funds the system’s pitch for new programs and equipment.
“That money is going to be primarily focused on two areas — tuition and debt,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, chairman of the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee.
The average student loan debt for 2011 graduates totaled $29,800, according to new data from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. About 71 percent of the class of 2011 graduated with loans, the fifth biggest share of any state.
“We must change the trajectory of that,” said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, chairwoman of the Senate’s higher education committee.