General College article was off the mark

by By David

As a historian I am constantly amazed at the lack of originality displayed in the telling and the retelling of the “General College” story. The fact that General College continues to capture the attention of the media is puzzling. A college that accounts for less than 0.4 percent of the University’s budget and accounts for 3 percent of the student enrollment is again being portrayed as a problem child.
More puzzling is the ascribing of decade-old statistical data to the work of the college today. The old mission of General College ended in 1991 with its last commencement ceremony. The majority of students mentioned in the recent Daily article (“Colleges’ stats tell dismal tale,” Monday) stems from a period between 1977 and 1990.
During that period, General College graduated students with certifications and Associate in Arts degrees (non-baccalaureate), and they were placed in baccalaureate programs as well. Transferring students to degree programs in the University was not an articulated mission objective. Incredibly, the University was not troubled either in its graduation or retention rates during the 1980s.
With respect to General College, the University had not established benchmarks or criteria to assess the work of the college. During the 1980s many other colleges at the University would have been deemed, by contemporary standards, less productive.
Under “Commitment to Focus,” an attempt was made to address the issue of productivity and programmatic focus for all academic programs. General College’s mission was redefined in August 1991. The first five-year cohort of students admitted under the new mission is now available for statistical analysis. To infer that General College has not changed in the last six years is irresponsible reporting.
For Daily reporter Gregg Aamot not to use information provided that demonstrates remarkable institutional vitality, adaptability, productivity, and movement towards enhanced student outcomes, simply confirms outdated stereotyping and is, journalistically speaking, irresponsible.
General College is here and is a University asset. It is one of a few programs that link the University’s land-grant mission directly to the governor’s economic agenda. The agenda describes how to prepare citizens for entrance into the workplace so that they are an asset in sustaining the economy of the state. Often University President Nils Hasselmo has described the University’s research mission as being one of the economic engines of the state. The inference is that knowledge generated here affects the materialistic well being of all Minnesotans.
Unfortunately, the trickle-down theory of the University’s beneficence does not reach all classes of citizenry. Pragmatically, General College teaches people to feed themselves by assisting them in acquiring knowledge and skills to do so. The college provides access to opportunities for self-enhancement. We do not guarantee graduation or job placement.
If the young editor of the Daily really wanted to cut his journalistic teeth in the realm of public policy, he could ask if it was in the interest of the state to foster a two-tier postsecondary educational system that reflects the inequalities already evident in our secondary school districts. Students enrolled in urban and rural school districts are often under-prepared with regard to the University’s preparation standards.
Those enrolled in suburban school districts are more often better prepared, though there is growing evidence that their achievement levels are declining as well. Under University 2000, Hasselmo’s plan to restructure the University, the urban and rural students will be channeled into educational opportunities befitting their socio-economic status; the suburban students will be invited to the University.
Aamot could question the logic of the plan soon to be placed before the state Legislature to merge Metropolitan State University and the Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
That plan has little to do with providing quality educational programs for students in the metropolitan area, and more with providing additional facilities for Metropolitan State University expansion. However, having accomplished this merger, the Legislature could declare victory with respect to the issue of what to do with under-prepared, educationally disadvantaged, low-income, and the other 75 percent of Minnesota high school students not admissible to the University under present admissions guidelines.
If all of them are directed to Metro State, the University will then be free to pursue the admissions policies articulated in the University 2000 goals. That is the story more worthy of investigative reporting.
It would certainly be more interesting to the taxpayers to know that their children have a greater chance of being admitted to the University of Wisconsin than the flagship that they are paying for. Thank goodness for reciprocity.
David Taylor is the Dean of General College.