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MnSCU replenishes reserve fund; lawmaker wonders if it's too much

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For fifteen years the Minnesota State Colleges and University system (MnSCU) has been working on building up a rainy day fund. Now the reserve is approaching $100 million and a key lawmaker is raising questions about why that much money is sitting in the fund and how it will be used.

The St. Cloud Times reports Rep. Gene Pelowski is considering holding Capitol hearings on the issue this fall. Pelowski is a Winona DFLer who chairs the House committee overseeing state colleges and universities.

The Times reports MnSCU's reserve fund has grown from $38 million in fiscal year 2003 to $99 million last year. A MnSCU spokesman tells the newspaper the increase has solidified the system's financial footing. And a national expert on university finances says a reserve of that size is in line with what hundreds of other colleges maintain.

Pelowski, though, says a $100 million reserve "is a paradigm we can no longer sustain." Tuition rates have climbed for most of the past decade, although a tuition freeze was enacted this year when the Legislature boosted state funding for higher education.

Over in Wisconsin the UW system took criticism this year for keeping a surplus of nearly $1 billion in reserve. The Milwaukee Journal reported the system has an annual budget of $5.6 billion.

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