Rochester proposal advances

by Stacy Jo

and Amy Olson
Higher education officials and community leaders professed virtually unfettered support for a plan to create a full-fledged branch campus in Rochester, Minn.
Last month, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees approved an outline of preliminary plans for the campus. The Board of Regents’ educational planning and policy committee approved the same statement Thursday; approval from the full board is expected this afternoon.
“There are so many things that are right with this proposal,” said Regent Maureen Reed.
The agreement would establish a branch campus that could be up and running as soon as fall 1999. If the project is approved, administrators estimate that enrollment will increase by 500 students per year over the next three years.
As it stands, the University has a limited stake in the campus; the University Rochester Center is comprised of Rochester Community and Technical College, Winona State University and the University of Minnesota.
A joint effort between MnSCU and the University, the new plan would establish the University of Minnesota-Rochester branch as the primary institution on the campus.
Over the past several years, the University has offered classes at the center via distance education and the traditional classrooms.
While distance education classes have served the community, proponents of the branch campus — including state Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, R-Rochester, — believe Rochester residents would benefit from a stronger University presence.
“You can’t learn to be a respiratory therapist via TV,” Kiscaden said.
Unlike the four existing University campuses, the University of Minnesota-Rochester would not have on-campus housing. It would have its own permanent faculty and offer degree programs such as applied business and network administration, which would support Rochester’s growing medical and technical industries.
Kiscaden said Rochester residents would benefit from the University’s research mission, which would support the city’s burgeoning medical and technical industries. She added that officials from the Mayo Medical Center hope to form a cooperative four-year allied health program. The medical center’s current program is two years long.
However, despite the enthusiasm, the project still has several obstacles to overcome — most significantly, funding.
While he said he was “cautiously optimistic” about garnering funds for the project, Executive Vice President and Provost Robert Bruininks acknowledged that it will be a challenge. Although the Legislature has been kind to the University as of late, officials will have to request an additional $5.3 million to fund the project — above and beyond the hefty $198 million request for new funds the school already made this year.
Also, MnSCU and the University have to find a way to quell the fears of officials at Minnesota State University, Mankato and Winona State University, who are concerned that the institution could put them out of business.
“We have gone to extraordinary lengths” to minimize the impact on other institutions, Bruininks said. He added that only two of the 11 masters degree programs overlap with Minnesota State.
The agreeent comes after years of work and cajoling by Rochester residents. Nancy Braatas, a trustee on the MnSCU board, said Rochester residents have wanted the partnership with the University for more than 50 years.