February 20, 2023
With record-low unemployment forcing employers across the state to scramble for qualified workers, the 37 colleges and universities that make up the Minnesota State higher education system are joining forces to deliver a unified message to state lawmakers as they consider a budget proposal for the 2024-2025 biennium: higher education must remain affordable in order to meet the state’s workforce demands.
“Around here, it’s no secret just how important Northland is to local employers,” said Dr. Sandy Kiddoo, President of Northland Community and Technical College. “Our graduates walk out our doors fully-trained and highly qualified to fill roles critical to our local communities, from nurses to aerospace technicians, early childhood educators to modern ag producers. Now we need to deliver that message to the lawmakers in St. Paul in order to keep our programs affordable and accessible. to keep growing our state’s economy.”
Recent studies show Northland delivers a nearly $127 million economic impact to the state of Minnesota by training much of the region’s workforce. To sustain and grow that impact, higher education must remain affordable and accessible. The biennial budget request being advocated by Minnesota State includes funding to address the challenges associated with Minnesota’s current and future workforce needs.
For its part, Northland has an impressive history of finding creative ways to support students. Pioneer Pantry, the recently launched on-campus food bank, as well as Northland Cares, a grant-funded emergency resource, are just two examples of the community college helping break down barriers to academic success. The college also signed on to Swipe Out Hunger, a network of 450 colleges and universities united in fighting food insecurity on college campuses, and will work toward earning the Hunger Free Campus designation this spring through Lead Minnesota.
Despite all these additional efforts to keep higher-ed affordable, tuition costs continue to be the number one barrier for would-be students.
“The value of our education is threatened when the cost of tuition is out of reach,” Kiddoo said. “We pride ourselves on the lowest tuition in the area and offer financial support for many of our students, yet some still cannot reach their educational goals. This is a state-wide challenge as employers continue to search for skilled workers to meet their needs and grow our economy.”
In an effort to break through barriers for students and support employers, the Minnesota State biennial budget request includes funding to freeze tuition, reduce the cost of attendance and provide a variety of additional support for students, including updating and modernizing programs and equipment used to train for technical careers. The budget request also includes an additional $301,000 directly for Northland to expand student support services.
Currently, Northland serves approximately 3,500 students each year, many low-income and nontraditional. For many of these students, a small increase in tuition may mean the difference in starting/continuing their education or being forced out of the classroom. The end result of continuously increasing tuition costs is clear: a decrease in the skilled workforce capable of meeting today’s labor needs.
“Without the needed support from the state, Northland will either have to increase tuition or reduce programs and services that contribute to student success and meet our employers’ needs,” Kiddoo said. “This is an investment in our hometown communities, as graduates largely stay close to home to find jobs, start businesses and contribute to our local economies. Lawmakers have an opportunity to ensure we have the resources to fund public higher-ed into the future for the benefit of greater Minnesota.”
For Kiddoo and her fellow college and university presidents, freezing tuition and reducing the costs of attendance will be a clear confirmation of Minnesota’s commitment to having a highly educated and skilled workforce.