What does a higher education bill mean for Northland colleges?

A compromise reached earlier this week in St. Paul means $1.87 billion for Minnesota State colleges over the next two fiscal years.

The entrance of a building with a round roof and five metal pillars
The amphitheater at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet on Aug. 27, 2020.
Tyler Schank / File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — A bill destined for Gov. Tim Walz’s signature won’t result in cuts at Lake Superior College and would mean a budget surplus at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

Reached last week, Minnesota lawmakers’ $4.2 billion compromise on higher education spending would apportion about $1.87 billion over the next two school years to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

That total includes $75 million, spread across next year and the one after it, to offset an agreed-upon freeze in tuition rates for the approximately 300,000 students who attend the system’s 26 colleges and seven universities, plus $50 million worth of one-time campus support next school year.

The Senate on Wednesday approved hundreds of millions over the next four years to fund tuition for students from families earning less than $80,000 a year.

At Lake Superior College, it means the school’s budgeted general fund revenue for the 2023-24 school year will rise by about $2 million to $34.5 million, according to Al Finlayson, the college’s vice president of finance and administration.

Of that increase, $700,000 comes from a hike to the school’s basic appropriation via the Minnesota State system, and the remaining $1.3 million comes from the one-time campus support money. The school’s budgeted expenditures, Finlayson said, will rise to $34.5 million as well.


Baked into those projections is an assumption that salaries at the college will rise by about 4% overall, benefits will rise by about 0.5%, and that enrollment will decline by about 3% to the equivalent of approximately 2,000 full-time students.

Finlayson said the enrollment estimate is deliberately pessimistic, and that recent enrollments suggest it won’t come to pass. Higher education administrators frequently use “full-year equivalent” figures when they put together a budget because that figure more readily accounts for students who are taking partial credit loads than a strict headcount does.

At FDLTCC, the higher ed bill would mean general fund revenue for the coming school year of about $10.4 million, up from about $10 million this year, according to Bret Busakowski, the college’s chief financial officer.

But the college initially expected to spend only about $10.3 million, resulting in an extra $100,000 that school administrators plan to spend in the coming year.

“We got a little more than we expected,” Busakowski said.

That projection assumes that enrollment will increase by about 10% to the equivalent of about 490 full-time students, and that personnel costs will increase by 6% and non-personnel costs, like classroom supplies and utilities, will increase by 10%.

It’s a swing from the school’s earlier projections, which suggested it would need to balance its budget by drawing between $235,000 and $440,000 from the approximately $11 million it has in reserve.

“Overall, this is a really good bill for Minnesota State,” Busakowski said.


Administrators at the University of Minnesota Duluth said they wouldn’t be available to discuss how the higher ed bill would affect the university’s budget until later this week.

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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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