The higher ed bill did not make it into law. It made it to the conference committee and got a fairly swift agreement between the House and Senate (part of the reason was that the committee chairs, Rep. Connie Bernardy and Senator David Tomassoni, were retiring. Tomasoni, a Democrat who caucused independently in this session, and Bernardy didn't have many strong disagreements.) The house repassed the bill, but the Senate voted to adopt the conference committee and then laid the bill on the table. It was a strategic move to "wait and see" if the rest of the bills came together, thus affirming the deal the leadership had made earlier on all the supplemental spending and the tax bill. As we know, the deal fell apart, and this bill died on the table.
What was in it?
The bill would have spent $20 M this biennium and $26 M in the next biennium from the general fund on programs and projects relating to Higher Education. This is in addition to roughly $3.5B for 22/23 and $3.5 B for 24/25 already passed in last year's budget and apart from capital projects for the various public campuses in last year's bonding bill. Here are the programs funded this year:
Appropriations to Programs of the Office of Higher Education
- Student-Parent Support (programs to support for college students who are parents)
- Grants for Tribal Colleges
- State Grants (a 1% increase to students' living and misc expenses allowance).
- Grants to underrepresented student teachers
- Hunger Free campus programs addition funding to include private higher learning institutions.
- Inclusive Higher Education Pilot Program—a program for creating and expanding opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to attend college.
- Learn to Earn programs for Owatonna and Steele Counties—a pilot project to grow and retain a skilled workforce in Owatonna and Steele Counties.
- Recruiting and Training Certified Nurse Assistants
Direct appropriations for Campuses
- Minnesota State $8.75 M: general operations and maintenance, workforce development scholarships, and health and allied fields scholarships. $1.01 M is added to the base; the rest is one-time money.
- University of Minnesota $3 M: $1 M is for Promise Scholarships; $ 2 M is added to the existing appropriation for the Natural Resources Research Institute.
Miscellaneous Policy Changes
- There was a significant policy portion devoted to sexual harassment and violence and the requirement for an "affirmative consent standard" to policies regarding sexual activity at post-secondary institutions.
- The bill would have made changes to the way the Minnesota Board of Regents would have been selected, in that the legislative commission that puts names forward would be allowed to put forward two names for each position
- Made changes to the regent selection process with regard to redistricting and reapportionment.
- Added new occupations to those eligible for workforce development scholarships: construction, social work, and law enforcement.
- Changes requirements for putting students in remedial or "developmental" programs. More than one standard must be used before forcing students to take extra classes.
- Appropriations to Programs of the Office of Higher Education
Out of control Salaries, Accusations of Conflicts of Interest, Quid Pro Quos
The legislature has so far tried and failed to address issues with out-of-control administrative costs at its major universities, especially administrative salaries.
Joan Gabel's Raise
Last December, the University of Minnesota board of regents gave University president Joan Gabel a $200,000 pay raise. She's now making $700,000, a 30% pay hike. Gabel could earn over $1.2 million with salary increases, bonuses, and supplemental retirement funds by the end of her employment contract in 2026. This would make Gabel the first University president to earn $1 million per year.
Proponents said Gabel's performance warranted the increase and aligned her pay with other school presidents in the Big Ten.
Opponents said it sent the wrong message when tuition is increasing, and the future of traditional college is uncertain in the wake of COVID and general trends toward certification rather than four-year degrees, online learning, and demographic shifts. In addition, Gabel had only served about 18 months when the raise was voted on, and there were complaints that it the salary they had offered her had been too low, she wouldn't have taken the job.
From a legislative perspective, the legislature approves the University of Minnesota's salary structure as stated in the University charter by ratifying its union contracts and approving the higher ed budget. Giving her a raise outside the budget process was a bad look for asking for more money.
Regent Sviggum's Employment
Interestingly, former speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, now Regent Sviggum, was one of the prominent supporters of the raise. Sviggum has had his own salary and conflict of interest issues while serving as Regent. In 2012, Sviggum was hired as communications director for the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus while serving as a Regent. He remained in both positions, although concerns were raised. In 2011, there was a conflict-of-interest inquiry about his roles as a regent and a paid fellow at the university's Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Sviggum ended up resigning from the Humphrey School.
Regent Mcmillan's Appearance Of A Quid Pro Quo
Another conflict of interest issue with the Regents popped up this week involving Regent Dave McMillan. McMillan recently resigned from the board of Regents and announced he was seeking the position of interim Chancellor of the University of Minnesota Duluth. The job is available because a national search for a permanent position came up empty-handed. However, given that McMillian voted for the salary increase and just last week voted for the 3.5% tuition increase that Gabel had requested, there is the suggestion of impropriety about McMillian's attempt to land the job.
None other than former Governor Arne Carlson, generally a big supporter of the U of M, said, "I am stunned. Thoroughly stunned. I cannot believe anybody would be part of this kind of arrangement," said Carlson. "This appears to be a very shabby form of a quid-pro-quo. And it's given the university a black eye, and it has to be investigated. It appears to be a very serious conflict of interest."