- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A Senate DFL plan to offer free tuition at community colleges won’t help the state’s production of future doctors, dentists and other health care professionals, the University of Minnesota’s president said Tuesday.

Eliminating tuition at state two-year community and technical colleges - one of the first bills Senate DFL leaders introduced last week - is a good move, Eric Kaler told reporters on Tuesday. But it’s unwise for lawmakers to only invest in two-year programs, Kaler said.

“I think the state should support higher ed more broadly,” he said.

Minnesota doles out hundreds of millions of dollars to the university system annually. Kaler is asking lawmakers for about $1.3 billion over the next two years, an increase of $127.2 million.

The extra money would expand a current undergraduate resident tuition freeze to resident graduate and professional students, replace two veterinary buildings on the school’s St. Paul campus and fund research in areas like mining, among other initiatives.

Kaler acknowledged that the state has only so much money to spread between his system and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, the system of 31 institutions that would benefit from the proposed elimination of two-year college tuition. He said he thinks he’ll be able to make the case that the university system needs more funding for its five campuses, too.

The state will soon face a shortage of health care professionals like dentists and doctors, Kaler said. That group comes almost exclusively from four-year programs, and Kaler wants $34.5 million over the next two years in part to train more of them.

Kaler mentioned engineers at a Tuesday press conference, but a university spokeswoman later said he was referring specifically to the health care field.

A MnSCU system spokesman declined to comment.

Kaler said the DFL plan for free community college, which doesn’t yet have a price tag, caught him by surprise. The White House announced a similar national proposal on Thursday that’s estimated to cost the federal government $60 billion over 10 years.

Senate DFL leaders have also proposed forgiving the student loans of health care professionals who commit to working at least three years in a rural community, a bill Kaler said he supported.

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