From: Bruce Svingen, WSUFA President
Darrell Downs WSUFA
Minnesota’s worst case scenario has arrived in public higher education. Ranking 31st in the nation for state funding for higher education according to Governing Magazine, the state has fallen behind Mississippi, Arkansas, and Kentucky. The $5.2 billion and likely growing projected deficit means that virtually all state funded agencies, including the higher education systems, are now trying to identify which of their limbs could be sacrificed without harming vital organs.
Winona State University is one of these vital organs. WSU is fortunate to have an ongoing demand for its courses. Enrollment is expected to continue to grow. On the other hand, it has already been dealt a $921,985 reduction partly because the governor imposed a $20 million cut to MnSCU stemming from the FY 2009 deficit and also because MnSCU is proposing to pass the majority of the cut down to the campuses. By the same confused logic, MnSCU shifted $217,048 of the governor’s reduction to MN State College-Southeast Technical. Perhaps the MnSCU Board should remember that the central office in St. Paul controls annual spending of approximately $146 million, including questionably legitimate experiments in technology, known as Enterprise Technology which alone costs over $25 million per year. The MnSCU central leadership has convinced itself that its programs in St. Paul are as vital as the academic programs on the campuses.
If this shell game of protecting MnSCU System Office spending and shifting cuts down to the campuses continues in the next biennium, the local impacts will be devastating. With a statewide projected deficit of $5.2 billion, WSU’s equal share of that deficit reduction could approach $5 million. The actual impact on WSU will be decided by the Legislature and MnSCU central offices. But this much is certain - streamlining at WSU can only go so far until course offerings are cut due to a lack of staffing. When courses are cut, students find it more difficult to complete their degrees, their class and part-time work schedules are disrupted, and enrollment begins to evaporate as student retention plummets. Not only do students lose by extending their time in college and their indebtedness, they also postpone their entry into the workforce or graduate schools.
Winona and the region cannot afford institutions of higher learning going into a financial tailspin. We will suffer economically, socially, and culturally if college bound students opt for better funded institutions. What matters now is that the Winona community join WSU and Minnesota SC-Southeast Technical to urge the MnSCU trustees to prioritize the campus level funding and to scale back System Office spending. It is also important to recognize that our campuses are the vital organs of higher education, and that the recent MnSCU shell game of shifting the governor’s cuts down to campuses is something that we cannot afford in the larger deficits of the next biennium.