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MnSCU Chancellor looks to future of higher education (12/14/2011)
By Sarah Squires

Photo by Sarah Squires
     Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Steven Rosenbloom visited Winona last week, pictured above with Winona State University President Dr. Judith Ramaley.

With news of increasing student loan debt, high rates of unemployment and budget cuts across the board for government entities, public higher education in Minnesota is aimed at adapting to a new world, connecting education with emerging jobs and creating innovative ways to draw down costs, according to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Chancellor Steven Rosenstone.

Rosenstone visited Winona State University (WSU) and Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical last week, learning more about the recent $830,000 National Science Foundation nanotechnology grant for Southeast Tech, then exploring the WSU Composite Materials Technology Center.

Rosenstone said that both the nanotechnology grant plans and the composite technology center were great examples of higher education institutions reaching out and partnering with outside industries, with those partnerships aimed at connecting education with the workforce needs of the future.

MnSCU’s Chancellor, appointed earlier this year, sat down with the Winona Post during his visit, and discussed with candor the challenges faced by higher education today, as well as what to expect from the future.

On the street, Rosenstone said he hears many of the same things about higher education as the rest of us -- with young people, families and communities concerned about the affordability of higher education, access, quality and the job market that follows.

While tuition rates seem to be an ever-increasing cost for young people, Rosenstone said that in fact, if you look at “constant” dollars that account for inflation and other factors, the cost to students for an education from a MnSCU school has actually been declining. “We cost less now than we did a decade ago,” he said.

Who pays for that education has changed, he continued, adding that state higher education funding has been cut per student by 48 percent over the last decade. And as state budgets continue to face deficits, MnSCU is committed to finding the right pieces of the puzzle, said Rosenstone, working hard to find ways to reduce costs and create efficiencies without sacrificing quality in education.

MnSCU faculty and staff have had pay frozen for two years, and each college and university is looking carefully at curriculum and operations to find ways to create more efficiencies.

What will the future of higher education in Minnesota look like? Rosenstone said that some people say that we won’t need big college and university facilities in the future, and that all higher education can be done online. He said he doesn’t agree. While more things will be incorporated into online platforms, there are plenty of subjects that don’t work well in such an offsite formula, and lots of students who learn better through a classroom experience. Many of the creative processes, skills and subjects taught at colleges and universities depend on hands-on engagements for students working together.

MnSCU colleges and universities are also beginning to work more closely on what they offer, creating specialties in some areas and figuring out which institution will offer what. Not every college and university is going to be able to offer everything, said Rosenstone.

We’re also seeing a great responsiveness to workforce needs among higher education institutions, said Rosenstone, developing deep partnerships with employers and industries to help ensure that students are learning the skills that are needed in a more competitive job market.

We’re committed to offering the highest value, most cost effective education in the state, he said, adding that WSU is roughly 40 percent less expensive than the University of Minnesota is now, and about a quarter of the cost of private colleges. MnSCU is working toward further widening that gap, he said, while maintaining the quality in education offered.

Is college right for everybody? Rosenstone said the thought that students leaving high school don’t need to bother with continued education is nonsense. The fact is that 70 percent of jobs in Minnesota by 2018 will require some post secondary education, he said, adding that college is essential for young people who would like a career, a living wage and the life they’ve always dreamed of.

That needed education won’t all be four-year degrees, admitted Rosenstone. Many of those jobs will require the technical skills that can be learned through a certificate or associates program or apprenticeship at a technical school, too. But whatever a student’s career path, the firm majority will have to look beyond high school in order to realize it, said Rosenstone.

“It might be technical degrees that are needed, too, but they’ve all got to go to college, otherwise they’re locked out of jobs in the future,” he said.

The partnerships being created in Winona between colleges and universities and private businesses are an example of what will carry higher education in Minnesota into the future. They’re the kinds of relationships that promise young people jobs at the end of their studies, partnerships that help keep colleges and universities nimble and relevant in a world of changing workforce demands, said Rosenstone. “It’s spectacular.” 


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