MSU has fewer students but wants more funding–a lot more

Enrollment on Minnesota State University campuses continued to decline this fall, dipping nearly four percent across the 7 universities and 26 community and technical colleges in the system. Despite a double-figure enrollment decline over the last decade, the Pioneer Press says MSU big-wigs were somehow still caught by surprise.

System leaders said Wednesday that enrollment, which is on a decade-long losing streak, looks to be down another 3.8 percent this year. That’s worse than the 2.2 percent they budgeted around.

“It appears that we were overly optimistic,” said Bill Maki, vice chancellor of finance and facilities.

You might expect the long term trend of declining numbers of students to equate to declining numbers of taxpayer dollars going on campus. Yet instead of implementing efficiencies like any business would do based on projections of less students and presumably lower costs, MSU did the opposite. They kept spending like it was still the pandemic, thanks to federal Covid funding.

The system wants a $350 million increase in state support to pay for a tuition freeze, increased student services and financial aid, job-training improvements and increased core funding for the 26 colleges and seven universities.

Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said he’s proposing such a “bold and aggressive” request, not because he wants a piece of the state’s huge budget surplus, but so that the system’s campuses can continue to support the state’s economy.

“We’re asking the state to make some very strategic investments in higher education so that the state is positioned better going forward to increase and grow its surplus,” he said.

The outgoing chancellor is swinging for the fences with a record funding request of legislators for the next biennium, notwithstanding the downward spiral in students. Among other things, he expects state taxpayers to pick up where federal Covid funding is leaving off on the tab for student services added during the pandemic. Without the huge funding hike, MSU’s vice chancellor of finance and facilities warns they may actually have to take a more financially viable approach.

“There may be more reductions needed if we don’t receive significant state funding and/or enrollment recovering,” [Bill] Maki said.

Minnesota State’s budget this year is $2.12 billion. Its largest revenue sources are the state appropriation, at $790 million, and tuition, at $703 million.

The good news? MSU always overshoots its budget requests to the state The system has received less than half of the total requested in the last several legislative sessions.