Part 2: College Tuition Costs on the Rise

By KBJR News 1

September 2, 2012 Updated Sep 2, 2012 at 11:43 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) --- It's fair to say the lives of every Minnesotan have been made better by research done by the University of Minnesota.

But that research is now in jeopardy.

In the early 1950s a researcher at the University of Minnesota developed a process to extract iron ore from waste rock.

The discovery made taconite as valuable as iron ore creating today's mining industry that supports much of the Northeastern Minnesota economy.

In 1956 a University of Minnesota researcher developed the first wearable pacemaker, saving hundreds of thousands of lives across the world.

His invention launched Medtronic and set Minnesota up as a world leader in medical innovation.

Both of these breakthroughs were made possible by the money taxpayers spend on the University of Minnesota.

"What's the next innovation in the medical care industry that brought Medtronic to the state? What's the next innovation benefitting iron ore, or copper nickel developments, on the Iron Range?" Dave McMillian of the U of M Board of Regents said.

Over the past ten years the Minnesota legislature has cut funding to the University by hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We have experienced unprecedented disinvestment in higher education on the part of our state," Dr. Lendley Black, UMD Chancellor said.

University spokespeople say state leaders need to understand that by cutting higher education funding they're damaging the state's overall economy.

UMD leaders point to programs like the Natural Resources Research Institute in Duluth. Inventions and developments through NRRI put people to work and protect the environment.

"We have researchers that are doing incredible work on Lake Superior," Black said. "We have researchers that are doing incredible work in Antarctica, finding the keys to climate change in this country."

While NRRI works to solve world issues it also helps creates jobs through its inventions.

At the same time UMD's Center For Economic Development helps established businesses grow while supporting news businesses.

"We've got to make sure legislators understand, not only the research piece, but the workforce development piece," McMillian said.

Minnesota Lt. Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon says state leaders understand the value the University brings to the entire state but says the money just isn't there.

"We know that we should be pouring money into those programs and other states are way ahead of us but we don't have the dollars to put into it," she said.

University leaders say it's a matter of priorities and higher education is too low on the state's list.

"So we stop funding higher education, the results aren't immediate but they're very, very significant, consequential, and they start to pile up over time," McMillian said.

"I know that Minnesotans are great at supporting social programs and we've had health care issues, but the reality is we're dealing with significantly decreased funds," Black said.

If lawmakers continue with their trend of slashing the U's budget higher education leaders question the future of research and job creation.

They intend to put these concerns front and center as we head into the 2013 Legislative session.

The 88th session of the Minnesota Legislature begins Tuesday, January 8th at noon.

Written by: Barbara Reyelts

Written by: Barbara Reyelts