U officials hope new tourism degree focus will draw more students

The resource-based tourism program is offered through the College of Natural Resources. The college’s goal is to increase enrollment by 47 percent.

Branden Peterson

Minnesota’s tourism centers such as the Boundary Waters, Lake of the Woods and even statues of Paul Bunyan draw thousands of visitors annually.

The nature of the tourism industry demands that workers manage a business, maintain preservation and appease visitors.

A new University degree program introduced this year is designed to meet these demands by training future tourism leaders.

Resource-based tourism, a recreation resource management major in the College of Natural Resources, is a new program University administrators and professionals hope will draw dozens of students to the tourism industry.

Undergraduate and graduate students can pursue the degree, and it is also offered as a minor.

Several schools nationally offer similar degrees. Programs at schools including Texas A&M and Colorado State instruct 200-300 students per year, said Ingrid Schneider, a College of Natural Resources research associate and an organizer of the new program.

“This is something that’s an opportunity,” Schneider said. “It’s homegrown – our tourism professionals serve Minnesota and our region very well.”

Only five students have enrolled in the program so far. However, senior Devon Radosevich said she believes more will join in time.

“The courses are very diverse Ö and there’s always going to be a need in tourism,” she said.

A fisheries and wildlife major before studying abroad in spring 2002, Radosevish said the program’s emphasis in business, visitor behavior and the environment made it a good fit for her.

Schneider said designing the program was a cooperative effort. She took suggestions from the University Tourism Center, the Minnesota Office of Tourism and Tour Minnesota, along with conducting an analysis of tourism tracks at other colleges, she said.

Schneider expects to refine the program as more students pass through it. The first students are expected to graduate in spring 2004, she said.

Schneider added that support from the college, the University’s Tourism Center, the Minnesota Office of Tourism and many industry professionals make her confident the program will succeed.

Even though it is one of the smallest colleges at the University, College of Natural Resources officials said they have high hopes the resource-based tourism program will inspire more students to walk into natural resource classrooms.

Enrollment is down from slightly more than 600 students in 1994 to 476 undergraduates this year.

Mel Baughman, associate dean in the college, said the program has the potential to boost enrollment and increase tuition revenues for the college.

“There are an increasing number of jobs in the fields, and we want more students to fill our classes,” he said. “Really, we’re trying to get back to where we were a few years ago.”

Baughman said the college has a long-term goal of enrolling 700 students.

Tourism is a significant part of Minnesota’s economy. In 2001, tourists spent $9.8 billion in gross receipts and sales, and the industry employed more than 135,000, according to the Minnesota Office of Tourism.

“We have things that are really a source of attraction and tourism draw,” Schneider said. “There’s definitely an interest from the market for this kind of enterprise and an opportunity.”

Branden Peterson covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]