Despite the fact this is the most prosperous time in the history of Minnesota, Gov. Ventura wants the state to fund just 18 percent of what Central Lakes College requests over the next two years.
The governor's proposal covers less than one-third of our inflation cost -- essentially the cost of just staying even.
Our college and the 34 other institutions within the state's largest system of higher education, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, may be forced to take more drastic action than already announced unless our lawmakers and the Governor can do what is necessary to meet the needs of employees and employers in Minnesota.
The Administrative Council at our college has voted to suspend low-enrollment courses for a year, which means the suspended programs will not be admitting new students. They are Graphic Arts Press, Electronic Publishing, Concrete Pumping, Automotive Technology and Auto Body Repair.
This action will probably have a full-year financial impact of about $500,000.
Only the board of trustees of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities may close a program. But this is what may happen, along with many other actions if we must do what it appears Gov. Ventura has asked us to do:
Reduce our educational offerings and raise tuition.
At the proposed budget level, we will lay off faculty, close programs, raise tuition and, in all likelihood, educate fewer people.
It is a sad commentary after an economic summit and six reports have suggested strongly that we should go in the other direction -- more educational opportunity -- not less.
If you want to drive students to educational opportunities in other states, this is a good way to start.
It would not be fair to students to cover our budget needs entirely through tuition increases. If we were to make up the difference between the Governor's number and just our inflation-related needs by budget cuts alone, it would mean about 1,100 faculty and staff layoffs statewide.
If we were to make it up entirely through tuition, it would mean a 22 percent tuition increase for our students (11 percent per year).
Our college has had to make cuts each year over the past four years in both career education and liberal arts areas. We have eliminated athletic programs, raised tuition and fees only to keep pace with inflation, and generally made across-the-board reductions.
We've done our best to reallocate resources, use reserves, and dig ourselves out of the red while meeting the emerging needs of our students. We have managed to develop new programs and strengthen those identified as priorities to serve the region in the 21st century.
We are building signature program areas in Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Nursing, and others. We have established credit transfer agreements with nine four-year colleges. We will begin this fall to offer on our Brainerd campus all Southwest State University courses needed for bachelor of science degree in elementary education.
We need to contribute to our state's economic and cultural future by efficiently offering quality opportunities for education, and that means obtaining new technology and other tools with trained faculty. We need the investment not to maintain the status quo but to effectively compete with other states that have moved their systems of higher education forward.
We need to invest in programs that offer promise to individuals who will be employed here and become players in the solution rather than the problem. That's why we're counting on our Legislature to enlist the resources we provide as taxpayers. All of us have a stake in the future.
(Ihne is president of Central Lakes College in Brainerd and Staples.)
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