President Johnson: State Funding for Higher Education
October 17, 2022
At Ridgewater College, we are committed to reaching and serving every prospective student in our region and providing every student with the necessary support to complete their degree and attain gainful employment. Our formula for success is rather simple: the more we succeed in attracting and educating students, the more our communities and state will succeed and the stronger our local economy will be – but our success is directly tied to state funding.
Every year at Ridgewater College, nearly one out of three students chooses to drop out before completing their program of study, a decision often driven by personal or financial issues that take priority over education. While we are increasing support services and resources to help students manage challenges in their personal life as well as in the classroom, we simply do not have adequate funding to ensure provision of the services and resources necessary to meet students’ needs.
Our financial challenges are not a new development. Since 1995, state funding for public higher education in Minnesota has decreased by 47%, while our operating and personnel costs have increased every year. Ridgewater is part of the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities (previously known as “MnSCU”), the third largest system of public higher education in the country – only the state system of New York and the city system of New York City system are larger. Yet the Minnesota State system currently receives a portion of only 6% of our total state budget that is dedicated to support public higher education, a decrease from 12% in 1995.
It is important to note that while public institutions like Ridgewater are often blamed for rising tuition costs, we only have two sources of revenue – tuition and state funding. Despite repeated requests by the Minnesota State Board of Trustees to increase state funding to avoid tuition increases, our system’s budget requests have repeatedly been under-funded by the legislature – leaving us with the difficult choice of increasing tuition or cutting programs and services.
In the 2022 legislative session, Minnesota State submitted a supplemental budget request for $30 million for campus operational support and $25 million to support a tuition freeze. Although the state had a $9 billion budget surplus, the session ended without legislation to fund public higher education. As President of Ridgewater College, I find the legislature’s lack of support for the Minnesota State supplemental budget request to be both disappointing and frustrating. The Minnesota State system is the primary higher education resource in our state for providing access and socioeconomic mobility for citizens, particularly for communities of color, first-generation students, and lower-income families. The lack of action by the legislature reduces the ability of the Minnesota State system to reach and serve students, directly impacting the state workforce and risking increases in social service costs related to unemployment and under-employment.
This ongoing fiscal challenge was the focus of a recent visit to Ridgewater’s Willmar campus by Devinder Malholtra, Chancellor of the Minnesota State system, and Roger Moe, Chair of the Board of Trustees, as part of a state-wide listening tour. At each stop on the tour, they met with community leaders and campus representatives, including students, to gather input to inform the Board’s biennial budget request that will be submitted for the 2023 legislative session. The Board’s budget plan is focused on three key areas – campus stabilization, workforce needs, and student success – and without an increase in state funding, institutions like Ridgewater will be forced to cut positions and reduce support services that help students prepare them for success in the workplace and in the community.
I can confidently state that we are doing our part on every campus in our system to effectively manage our resources. We are on a system-wide journey of innovation, continuous improvement, and accountability to make the most of our resources and revenue. We have the necessary talent and commitment in our faculty and staff to achieve our mission, but we need the financial means to maintain and develop the offerings, services, and resources needed to help our students succeed. While the recent listening sessions provided input to help our Board craft its message to the legislature, the Chancellor of Minnesota State should not carry our budget request forward alone. We need every stakeholder to reach out to local legislators to encourage support for the 2023 budget request of the Minnesota State system. Failure to increase state funding for public higher education will not only put colleges like Ridgewater at risk – it will hurt students, families, employers, and our local and state economy.
Dr. Craig Johnson
Ridgewater College President