Chancellor warns of disturbing trend during State of the System presentation to MnSCU board

Posted: September 22, 2004

Contact: Doug Anderson, doug.anderson@so.mnscu.edu, 651-201-1426

State's future threatened by dwindling support for higher education, Chancellor McCormick says

In his first formal State of the System presentation for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees, Chancellor James H. McCormick on Wednesday outlined achievements of the 32-institution system but first warned about a disturbing trend facing public higher education in Minnesota.

"For the past four consecutive years, our students have had to cope with double-digit tuition increases - a nearly 60 percent increase since fall 2000," McCormick told the board. "Over that same period, our state appropriation per student has slipped by 18 percent."

McCormick said the combination means the burden of college costs are falling increasingly on the students and their families. Five years ago, the legislative appropriation supported nearly two-thirds of the cost of college; today it supports 49 percent, and students and their families have had to make up the difference.

"These numbers are a symptom of what I see as the true underlying problem - the erosion of the understanding, once widely held, that higher education is a public good, a good that benefits everyone, not just the people who participate in it," McCormick said.

Rising student debt is one result of the trend, he said. In 2003, students borrowed $317 million, more than twice the amount students borrowed in 1995.

McCormick urged state leaders to be wise in planning for the future and to focus on how higher education can help the state meet its needs.

Robert H. Hoffman of Waseca, chair of the 15-member Board of Trustees, affirmed the chancellor's message. "The state colleges and universities have worked hard to absorb the $191.5 million budget cut by the Legislature in 2003 while maintaining quality education, but the need for increased public support is critical," Hoffman said.

Among recent accomplishments by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities cited by McCormick are:

  • Expanded online education, with 79 programs now offered completely or predominately online and more than 2,300 course sections.
  • A 36 percent increase in students of color over the past five years, with about 21,800 students of color enrolled in the 2002-2003 academic year.
  • Stronger relationships with business, with McCormick meeting with more than 300 business leaders and Chambers of Commerce members statewide.

McCormick said plans include a renewed request for the system's $275 million capital request during this year's legislative session, including $100 million to protect the public's investment in the physical assets of the campuses. He said the system also will request a state appropriation increase to support initiatives such as expanded online programs and services, nursing education, a world-class Teacher Center to support new teachers, services for farmers and small business owners, and efforts to reach out through the K-12 system to students traditionally under-served by higher education.