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IU president encouraged by state budget plan

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A proposed boost in the state's higher education funding is an encouraging step after more than $150 million was cut during the recession, Indiana University's president said Thursday.

IU President Michael McRobbie and other state university leaders testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is reviewing the new two-year state spending plan. The version approved last month by the Republican-controlled House includes a 3.5-percent increase for the state's seven public universities — up from the 1-percent hike proposed by GOP Gov. Mike Pence.

The House proposal would add $42 million in operating money to the universities after more than $150 million in cuts ordered by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels since 2009.

"I'm very pleased that after four years of a very tight economy and very tight funding for higher education that the Legislature seems to be really very strongly supportive of reinvesting in higher education," McRobbie said after he testified.

McRobbie and other university officials outlined steps they've taken to limit student tuition increases and course-tracking programs aimed at making it more likely that students can graduate with degrees within four years.

State legislators have pushed university leaders on those issues, saying the schools needed to be more concerned about affordability and holding down student debt.

Appropriations committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he was pleased with actions taken by Purdue, IU and other schools.

"I think we're all working on that together now, and I'm glad to see that," Kenley said.

Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, asked Purdue Provost Tim Sands to thank Daniels, now Purdue's president, for the two-year tuition freeze he announced this month for in-state students at the West Lafayette campus.

McRobbie, meanwhile, discussed the 25-percent discount on summer semester tuition that IU is now offering at each of the seven campuses it oversees around the state.

Committee member Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, said he was glad the budget proposal would reverse some of the funding cuts in higher education. But he was still concerned that larger schools, like IU, would receive more money than smaller schools, such as Ball State and Indiana State.

"I don't know that this budget is going to get them back to where they were a few years ago," Skinner said.

The House spending plan dedicates nearly $3.6 billion over the next two years — about 12 percent of the state budget — toward funding the universities and college financial aid programs.

Kenley called the House proposal "very generous" toward the universities.

"It appears to be justified by the fact that they've taken cuts previously and they've worked hard to develop efficiencies all over the universities," he said.

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