Lawmakers consider making fees optional

Published 10:23 pm Thursday, April 20, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers working to finalize a spending plan for state public colleges and universities are discussing whether student fees that are paid in addition to tuition should be optional.

The measure to make the fees optional is included in a broader, $3.2 billion higher education budget bill the House passed earlier this month, according to a press release.

Republican Rep. Drew Christensen of Savage proposed the optional student fee, saying his goal is to drive down the soaring cost of higher education.

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The fees help pay for health and recreation centers, school newspapers, student government, collegiate athletics and other groups. The charges vary from campus to campus.

Some university administrators and students said making the fees optional could push those charges onto tuition bills or threaten student groups and services.

But Christensen said the costs aren’t fair to students who don’t want to participate in those activities.

“Students having to work extra jobs to pinch pennies and work their way through college don’t necessarily have time to participate in these student groups and are having to work extra hours or take out more in student loans to be able to afford these student fees,” he said.

A March hearing on the issue attracted students from colleges across Minnesota who all spoke in opposition to the bill.

Minneapolis Community and Technical College student Charles Karter, an Army veteran, said his campus’ Veterans Upward Bound program, which is partly funded by student activity fees, has been critical to preparing him for a career after serving in the military.

“If we presented to you that you had to get a taxpayer referendum anytime you wanted to raise taxes, or you could opt in or opt out of taxes to pay for state government, I imagine it would cause great destruction to your institution,” Karter told lawmakers at the hearing. “We don’t want to see that happen to ours, either.”