A key Republican said the state college and university system’s request for a $246-million funding increase will probably have to be scaled back.

Senator Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake).

Madison Lake Senator Rich Draheim said that number is “quite large from what we’ve been used to” and will be competing with other budget items. “Health care is gonna be a big draw,” he said, “You know, the aging population, long-term care, housing.”

State college and university Chancellor Devinder Malhotra acknowledges it’s the largest request in recent memory but said the state must make strategic investments, “To the changing needs of the workforce, not only of today, but that of tomorrow.”

In addition, Draheim said the proposal that would allow low-income students to attend community or technical colleges in Minnesota and pay *no* out-of-pocket tuition should be scrapped in favor of low-interest loans. He said, “I like that concept better than just saying, ‘Hey, it’s free.’ I think if they have a little skin in the game, have it explained to them well that, ‘You’re responsible for this debt, so take it serious.” I think it’s the best way to do it.”

Officials have proposed the state pick up any tuition cost that remains after low-income students receive financial-aid grants — reducing their out-of-pocket cost to zero.

Lawmakers will return to Saint Paul in early January.