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Danielle Killey, Forum News Service, Published February 07 2013

U of M reps push tuition freeze at Minn. Capitol

ST. PAUL – University of Minnesota students and officials pushed state lawmakers Thursday to fund a plan to freeze undergraduates’ tuition.

The tuition hold, which comes at a cost of $42.6 million over the next two years, is part of the university’s nearly $1.2 billion request from the state.

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities student Ryan Olson, a Moorhead native, said tuition cost is a key issue for students.

“We want to make it more affordable for the future students who go to the U of M,” Olson said. “It’s our responsibility as current students.”

The 18-year-old economics major said part of the reason he chose the university was that it was less expensive than similar schools, but tuition is becoming a burden in general.

“I am lucky my family can afford it,” Olson said. “Not everyone has that opportunity.”

He was one of more than 400 students from across the university’s campuses that signed up to make the trip to the state Capitol for “Support the U Day,” where University of Minnesota representatives rallied, met with legislators and promoted the organization’s funding request.

The freeze on undergraduate tuition is estimated to save each incoming freshman $2,500 at the Twin Cities, Morris, Duluth and Rochester campuses and $2,100 in Crookston over four years.

University President Eric Kaler emphasized other parts of his plan Thursday that would save students money as well, such as forgiving loans for health care professionals such as pharmacists, doctors and veterinarians who agree to work in underserved areas of Minnesota. That would cost about $1.5 million starting in 2015.

Gov. Mark Dayton emphasized the need to invest in education during his State of the State speech Wednesday night. His budget proposal includes $80 million of the university’s $91.6 million increase request over two years.

“I like our chances,” Kaler said. “I think we have elected officials willing to support us.”

Sen. Terri Bonoff, chairwoman of the Senate higher education committee, said she supports the emphasis on putting more money toward higher education, including the University of Minnesota.

“I’m going to do my very best … to provide as much funding as possible,” the Minnetonka Democrat told those gathered at the Capitol.

Bonoff said capping tuition “is a very important first step” toward making college more accessible and affordable.

The school is asking lawmakers for money to start new programs as well.

Its budget request includes $36 million to create Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE), which would focus on four key areas: advancing industry and conserving the environment, treating brain conditions, stabilizing the global food supply and supporting robotics work.

The university also has outlined $173 million in requests for a state public works funding bill for building repairs and rehabilitation, though this year is one typically focused on setting the state budget instead of bonding.