Last week, House Higher Ed Committee Chairman Gene Pelowski challenged MnSCU Vice-Chancellor Laura King:

Led by Winona Rep. Gene Pelowski, the pugnacious House point man on higher education, lawmakers grilled MnSCU chancellor Steven Rosenstone and other MnSCU administrators during a Wednesday hearing.

The resounding message from legislators: Rising tuition costs in MnSCU, the statewide system that includes St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Technical & Community College, have become a real concern in the past decade.

Wednesday’s hearing was contentious at times. At one point, Pelowski, responding to MnSCU vice chancellor Laura King’s assertion that students were consulted on tuition hikes, flatly told King: “I don’t believe what you just said.”

Chairman Pelowski is justified in questioning Vice Chancellor King. When President Potter eliminated SCSU’s Aviation Department, he was required to follow MnSCU procedure 3.36.1, which requires documenting 9 specific things. He didn’t. Shortly thereafter, Larry Litecky, then the Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, was asked to respond to why that MnSCU procedure hadn’t been followed. Here’s Mr. Litecky’s response:

My staff and I remain persuaded that the university conducted required and appropriate consultations and assessments that informed its decisions.

Students in the Aviation program weren’t consulted as required. Further, SCSU didn’t provide the documentation that’s required. That means there’s nothing to be persuaded about. Either President Potter documented the things that MnSCU policy requires or he didn’t.

It’s questionable whether the procedure was followed or if the documentation exists.

That means Chairman Pelowski is totally justified in questioning whether MnSCU consulted with students about a tuition increase.

This paragraph caught my attention:

MnSCU officials say state funding cuts during the past decade have forced the system, governed by its board of trustees, to boost tuition to maintain quality of instruction.

MnSCU raised tuitions but didn’t think about shutting down some of its campuses. Why didn’t they think of that? Further, MnSCU and their universities didn’t stop hiring administrators. Shouldn’t that part of MnSCU have been the first part of MnSCU to get examined? There are more administrators in MnSCU and at each MnSCU university now than there were 5 years ago. More importantly, administrators are getting paid more now than 5 years ago.

Pelowski and Poppe questioned the salary and bonus levels for MnSCU administrators, which Pelowski said are coming as students shoulder ever-greater tuition costs. In an example typical of his administrative colleagues, St. Cloud State University President Earl H. Potter III got a $288,550 salary plus a $14,250 bonus in 2012. “The issue is, someone’s bearing the burden for all of this,” Pelowski said. “There has to be a reckoning.”

Pelowski said Gov. Mark Dayton, in a recent meeting between the two, highlighted that many MnSCU administrators make larger salaries than the governor. Dayton’s deputy chief of staff, Bob Hume, confirmed that account and said the number of administrators and administrative salaries are issues of concern for Dayton in both the MnSCU and University of Minnesota systems. “It’s a big chunk of resources we need to make sure we’re applying as strategically as possible,” Hume said.

Why raise tuition when MnSCU should be cutting administrators and administrator salaries? That’s a backwards approach. Administrators cost universities money. Hiring faculty to staff more job-creating programs increases enrollments, which increases revenues.

The question that still remains is whether the DFL legislature will force MnSCU to make smarter financial decisions. Only time will tell on that.

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