ST. PAUL - "Send money" was the message Minnesota college students delivered to legislators Wednesday, but legislators told them not to expect a check as big as they want.

Several hundred students from across the state rallied on the Capitol steps and in the rotunda in an annual ritual. Their main goal is a tuition freeze, but no legislators supported one.

"There always is money somewhere," Travis Maier of Minnesota State University Moorhead said. "It is a matter of priorities."

Maier, president of the university's student body, said about 50 students left Moorhead for the Capitol at 3 a.m.

Students met with about 40 legislators. Maier said some supported the freeze and "some hem-hawed about it."

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Bud Nornes, chairman of the House Higher Education Finance Committee, received a mixed response, with scattered boos, when he told the crowd not to expect a freeze. But he promised "to put as much into higher education as we possibly can."

"We'll listen to you," Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said. "Your being here makes a difference."

Students gave mild applause to Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who told them Gov. Tim Pawlenty boosted higher education spending 3 percent in his budget proposal. After his speech, Urdahl said a tuition freeze "faces great difficulty."

"The colleges have to decide what to do with tuition," he said.

The crowd included about 15 to 20 students from the Red Wing campus of Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical.

Alan Ostergaard, 18, of Blaine, Minn., is a member of the campus' Student Senate. He said it's important for college students from across the state to unite because tuition costs are "ridiculous."

"It's all about awareness," Ostergaard said. "You gotta let them know that we care."

Joining Ostergaard was Andrew McCracken, a 22-year-old from Wichita, Kan.

He is studying musical instrument repair at the Red Wing college, and admitted to suffering from a bit of sticker shot when he received his semester tuition bill.

"I was kind of blindsided by $6,000," said McCracken, referring to the cost for 22 credits. "I was not expecting it to be that much."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707