ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Students, faculty and administrators urged Gov. Mark Dayton during a roundtable discussion Wednesday to stand firm against deep cuts in Minnesota higher education.

The Democratic governor is proposing smaller cuts in public higher education than the Republican-controlled Legislature. He held the discussion in a packed room at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul to address how cuts would affect colleges and universities in the state.

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“I never thought in my professional career I’d be thanking the governor for a cut,” joked Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor James McCormick, one of the roundtable panelists.

Members of the panel, which represented everyone from students and teachers to lawmakers and college administrators, spoke about the need to keep higher education in Minnesota accessible and of high quality. Some people in the audience carried signs reading “YEE-HAW! Minnesota: Falling behind Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas in higher education funding” and “Invest in the future.”

“I understand something needs to be cut somewhere,” said panelist Amy Henschel, a 34-year-old single mother of three from Farmington who attends Globe University in the Twin Cities. “But students need to have these opportunities, because we are the future.”

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks called the House and Senate budgets “a race to the bottom” and “a recipe to cut economic growth in Minnesota.”

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“This is about jobs,” Bruininks said. He pointed to a consultant’s report that concluded that every dollar invested in the university by the state generates $13.20 in the statewide economy.

Thomas Trehus, 20, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, said the deep cuts would be “devastating to students.” Trehus, political director of the Minnesota Student Association, said the result would be larger class sizes and a longer wait for students to get into classes and graduate.

“We need to protect higher education,” Trehus said.

Metropolitan State President Sue Hammersmith said students have been dealing with soaring tuition and schools are faced with eliminating academic programs. She said schools are looking at cost-cutting moves “that would have been unthinkable several years ago.”

Dayton said the cuts would have “terrible consequences” and that hearing from those who would be affected strengthened his resolve.

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