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Gov. calls for big boost in higher education funding

Alexandria Community and Technical College President Laura Urban

A proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton to make college and career training more affordable would mean more dollars for students at Alexandria Technical and Community College.

Dayton said his "Opportunity Agenda for a Better Minnesota" would expand opportunities for the more than 427,000 higher education students in the state by investing $318 million into college and career training.

It would provide tuition relief to 88,800 students through the State Grant Program, and would increase access to campus programs across the state that promote student success, according to Dayton.

For Alex Tech students, the new state grants would total $337,000 in 2018, which would help 53 new recipients. It would increase the total grants to just over $1.2 million and help 730 students.

Laura Urban, president of the college, said that Dayton's proposals are a "good start" but fall short of what the state's higher education system was hoping for in terms of operational support. The system asked for $178 million while Dayton is calling for $135 million.

Those dollars, Urban said, would help colleges cover operational and maintenance costs, such as fixing roofs, installing heating systems and replacing aging infrastructure.

"It's great that the governor is adding to the State Grant Program but that does not pay our bills," Urban said.

She added that the state grants will allow Alex Tech to help more needy and deserving students but not necessarily increase enrollment. "The students' money will go further," she said, "and it will allow us to retain students."

Tuition rates at two-year colleges have been frozen for a number of years, Urban said, and last year, they decreased 1 percent. "That may not seem like a lot to an individual student, but when you look at several thousands of students, that's a good chunk of change."

Urban supports Dayton's effort to reduce student homelessness. His budget calls for $250,000 to provide college students with a safe place to live.

"That will be very helpful for students," she said. "Students have more expenses than paying tuition and buying books. Where students get into trouble is when they have an unexpected car repair, a medical bill or another expense and they can't pay their rent."

Urban said that a grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation used to help Alex Tech students with those emergency needs but it ended this past December. Dayton's funding could help cover those non-academic expenses, she said.

The governor's job bill also calls to invest $316 million to "ensure Minnesota students have world-class classrooms and laboratories to learn and train in."

"Gov. Dayton's Opportunity Agenda would make college and career training more affordable for over 88,000 Minnesota students, while ensuring more Minnesota families can access the best opportunities our state can offer," said Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. "College and career readiness are essential to building an economy that works for all Minnesotans, everywhere in our state. Gov. Dayton and I will work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to expand these opportunities for more Minnesota families this year."

Other highlights of Dayton's higher education budget include:

• Minnesota State (formerly Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) and the University of Minnesota. The governor's budget invests $125 million in Minnesota State campuses statewide, and $96.8 million in the University of Minnesota.

• Combating sexual assault on campus. Dayton's budget includes $300,000 to hire a campus sexual violence prevention and response coordinator at the Office of Higher Education, who will support efforts to reduce sexual violence on campuses around the state.

• Maintaining higher education facilities. Dayton's jobs bill would spend $135 million in basic infrastructure maintenance at the Minnesota State and University of Minnesota campuses statewide. The type of projects that would be funded include roof repairs, heating and cooling system repair and replacement, and electrical equipment repairs.

• Classrooms and labs for the careers of tomorrow. Dayton's jobs bill would spend more than $180 million to build innovative classrooms and laboratories for career opportunities in tomorrow's economy. These projects include a new health sciences facility at the University of Minnesota, the Education Village at Winona State University, new class space at Bemidji State University, and more across the state.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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