As state legislators craft higher-education funding bills, we urge them to recognize and support the significant return all Minnesotans receive from strong investment in the University of Minnesota.
The U is one of America's leading research universities, a world-class educator and an organization grounded in public service and engagement. We drive our state's workforce, economy, innovation and discovery, fueled by the notable achievements of our students, faculty and staff in recent years and guided by President Joan Gabel's leadership and our MPact 2025 systemwide strategic plan.
- We've set records for systemwide research funding (more than $1 billion annually two years in a row), startups launched (sixth-most among public universities) and patents (eighth among public universities).
- In fall 2021 and fall 2022, we welcomed systemwide our largest and most diverse freshman classes in history, including a record percentage of Minnesota high-school graduates who enrolled as freshmen.
- The University of Minnesota Medical School returned to the Top 25 nationally, moving up eight spots in the Blue Ridge Rankings, reflecting a significant increase in external research funding that directly benefits Minnesota.
- We continue to enhance student career success and placement, while supporting students with mental health, advising and other services.
- We have maintained competitive net tuition rates and kept increases as low as possible.
- Through 15 regional offices, 87 county offices and numerous campus research and outreach centers, Extension faculty and staff make research and knowledge accessible to all Minnesotans. Extension partnerships rose to more than 1,700 last year, a 20% increase over the previous year.
- As one of Minnesota's largest employers, we have taken positive strides in maximizing fair and competitive wages and benefits to compete for and retain talent.
At its core, the university's mission is about improving the lives of Minnesotans. We are the state's land-grant university, founded before the state itself. For more than 170 years, it has been the state's obligation to fully support the university so it may drive statewide success.
Each year, we spend months developing our annual budget with this mission and the university's strategic plan in mind. This process includes identifying cost reductions and making reallocations to the highest and best uses. We are taking ongoing, long-term efforts to increase efficiency and quality and we have reallocated in the range of $15 million to $50 million a year over the last decade toward education, research and outreach activities ("U must do more to cut costs," editorial, March 23).
The university's initial budget request reflected this discipline. But like the state of Minnesota itself, the university reviewed an early 2023 budget forecast. In light of that forecast and at the request of state elected representatives who queried us about what it would cost to hold tuition flat, we revised our state budget request to account for an enrollment-related tuition shortfall likely resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. This careful and comprehensive process historically yields very accurate projections, but this year did not fully anticipate the extent of recent changes and how they would increase university costs.
Thankfully, our disciplined budgeting practices identified this problem promptly, providing an opportunity to address the shortfall this budget session, and we appreciate legislators' encouragement to do so.
To be clear, this request is in no form or fashion a bailout; had our legislative partners not made this request, we would have addressed this shortfall internally, as we did with most other COVID-related expenses. All of this comes in the context of widespread inflation, from which we are not immune, and serves as a reminder that you can't cut your way to quality.
It's also important to understand that demand from incoming freshmen remains strong on the Twin Cities campus, but we are observing different behaviors from already enrolled students in their second or third year as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. A key difference is the continued increase of Minnesota resident students as compared to nonresidents, who pay higher tuition.
There is a decline in transfer student enrollment in recent years, a byproduct of declining enrollment at other two- and four-year institutions. A factor we should all celebrate is our record four-year graduation rates, which maximize student affordability but reduce the number of students paying undergraduate tuition for a fifth year.
At the University of Minnesota, we have a clear vision, but the university now needs a significant investment from state policymakers to make it a reality. Fortunately, history shows us the return on that investment is second to none.
Myron Frans is senior vice president for finance and operations, University of Minnesota.