Minnesota State colleges and universities will welcome students back this fall with a tuition freeze.

Chancellor Devinder Malhotra announced Wednesday, June 17, the system’s board of trustees agreed to freeze tuition for undergraduate students at all 37 schools for the fall 2020 semester. That includes Central Lakes College with campuses in Brainerd and Staples.

“The undergraduate tuition freeze for fall semester is a sign of our commitment to affordability and a compelling incentive for students,” Malhotra stated in a news release Wednesday. “Every one of our 30 colleges and seven universities stands ready to welcome students back fall semester and are prepared to help them achieve their educational goals — whether they are just starting college, continuing on their educational journey, or going back to school to retool their skills for new job opportunities.”

CLC President Hara Charlier said in a news release Wednesday CLC administrators are pleased to be able to offer the tuition freeze as a part of the school’s commitment to access, affordability and removing barriers for all students.

The tuition freeze was made possible by a one-time internal reallocation of funds from the Leveraged Equipment Program, Malhotra said during a conference call Wednesday. The state-funded program allows Minnesota State schools to purchase state-of-the-art equipment for its classes.

With the tuition freeze, costs at Minnesota State colleges and universities remain the lowest of any higher education institutions in the state, Wednesday’s news release said. Tuition starts at about $5,000 a year for the 30 colleges and about $8,000 a year for the seven universities before scholarships and other aid. The system, Malhotra noted, serves 65% of Minnesota resident undergraduate students and is the largest provider of higher education for low income and students of color in the state. About 76,000 low-income students and 66,000 students of color attend Minnesota State schools.

“These populations are already disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, making it even more difficult for them to return to their studies in the fall or choose to attend college at all. Ensuring these students persevere in their education is critical to the future of our state,” Malhotra stated in the news release.

Devinder Malhotra. Courtesy of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities
Devinder Malhotra. Courtesy of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

To further assist students financially, Minnesota State plans to expand its Workforce Development Scholarship Program this fall, offering nearly 2,200 scholarships worth $2,500 each to students who enroll in programs leading to high demand occupations in health care services, advanced manufacturing, information technology, transportation, early childhood education and agriculture.

Even with the tuition freeze and added scholarships, Malhotra said the system expects an enrollment dip this fall. Although summer enrollment is up by about 4.5%, he said enrollment for the fall semester is 13.8% lower than it was at this time last year.

“Our colleges and universities are continuing their diligent efforts to contact both current and prospective students and make sure that we create opportunities for them to continue their educational journey, and that would also help us shore up the enrollment. Enrollment is a high priority for us,” Malhotra said during the conference call.

Through the Elevate Minnesota Scholars advertising campaign, the system is also targeting Minnesota students who plan to study out of state to encourage them to rethink their plans and stay closer to home as they work toward their educational goals and help build their communities. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malhotra said he believes more students might be inclined to stay closer to home for school.

Virtual Minnesota State Week will occur June 22-26, offering prospective students virtual campus visits and meetings with admissions and financial aid counselors. Application fees will be waived during that week.

While tuition will be frozen for fall 2020, the system also announced Wednesday a 3% tuition increase for spring 2021 to make sure schools have the necessary resources to fund inflationary costs and long-term financial and programming sustainability.

Fall classes

While about 95% of classes at Minnesota State schools went online from the end of March through the rest of the spring semester, schools plan to welcome at least some students in person this fall.

“We will do this in a manner which is safe and all the safety protocols are followed in accordance with the guidelines from CDC and MDH,” Malhotra said of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Minnesota Department of Health.

Schools within the system will essentially be able to determine for themselves how to schedule classes with a mix of online and in-person instruction.

“How each individual college is structuring their academic offerings for fall is highly dependent on the academic program mix that they have,” said Vice Chancellor of Finance Bill Maki Wednesday. “So some campuses will be doing more in-person instruction based on the types of programs they have. For example, if it’s more of a hands-on technical program, it’ll tend to have more in-person components than perhaps a liberal arts course that may be done completely online.”

The system’s guidance, Maki said, is simply for schools to be ready to welcome students in the fall and to be flexible with the format of classes, while adhering to state and federal safety and health guidelines.

A news release Tuesday, June 16, stated CLC will offer a wide range of course delivery modes for students to choose from this fall, including face-to-face, online and a variety of options in between.

New HyFlex courses at CLC will provide flexibility for students to choose when they are comfortable returning to campus. These courses include a combination of optional face-to-face, online delivery in real time and tradition online components. Technical program instructors, the release stated, are committed to delivering in-person, hands-on training with some engaging online components for added flexibility.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.