ST. PAUL-Minnesota State university leaders want the freedom to raise tuition in order to pay for initiatives they say will improve student outcomes.
In the past six years, the Legislature has effectively frozen tuition for the state's two-year colleges and authorized the seven state universities to raise tuition by less than 8 percent.
And although the Legislature has sent schools tens of millions to replace much of the lost tuition, the practice isn't working for many leaders.
"Freezing tuition, even when the Legislature replaces that with the allocation, really removes one of our most important tools for accomplishing our other objectives," Anne Blackhurst, president of Minnesota State University Moorhead, said Tuesday, April 17.
Blackhurst spoke on behalf of her fellow university presidents during a preliminary Board of Trustees discussion about the funding request that Minnesota State will take to lawmakers next spring.
Blackhurst said the presidents have not agreed on a particular tuition strategy. But she said that in conjunction with a price increase, universities might offer discounts to incent students to stay in school, take a full courseload each semester and graduate on time.
Such strategies could help close the higher education system's racial and economic gaps in graduation rates, she said, and differential tuition could steer students toward high-demand programs.
"There's great interest, I think, in exploring the options," she said.
Trustee Cheryl Tefer said she's "really fascinated" by the idea of using tuition breaks to improve student retention.
"It needs to be in the academic tool belt," she said.
Blackhurst said the state university presidents have "great concerns" about the financial health of their institutions.
Laura King, chief financial officer for the higher education system, said the seven universities and 30 colleges will have to eliminate a combined $33 million budget deficit before school starts in fall 2019.
Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said improvements in student outcomes like graduation rates will also boost the financial health of the colleges and universities.