Rochester campus seeks expansion, more students

A new plan calls for the school’s first academic building and an increase in enrollment.

Blair Emerson

The University of Minnesota-Rochester is planning for a future with double the campus’s current number of students and expanded grounds.

Administrators are making a plan to accommodate an influx of Rochester students over the next two decades. And while the proposal is in its early stages, some school leaders say it could lead to heightened competition between the Rochester and Twin Cities campuses.

Rochester campus administrators submitted a master plan, which includes bringing enrollment numbers to 1,400 in the next decade, to the Board of Regents earlier this month. Regents will vote on whether to approve the plan at next month’s meeting.

The first phase of the plan includes constructing a 120,000-square-foot building with classrooms and other amenities in the next six to eight years, which would be the first building owned by the campus. Currently, much of the campus consists of classrooms on the third and fourth floor of a shopping mall.

“We are leasing space in downtown Rochester, and space is at a premium [there],” said Jay Hesley, Rochester’s assistant vice chancellor for institutional advancement. “Finding space appropriate for the educational process is very difficult.”

Rochester Student Association President Whitney Forseth said a new building for academics would improve space for students.

Rochester’s student population has grown from 57 students enrolled in fall 2009 to nearly 500 students last fall, and administrators say they’re planning for that number to steadily rise.

Rochester Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle said he thought the new academic building would follow the enrollment spike instead of vice versa.

“I’ve always thought we’ll build it when they come, not if they come,” he said, “so when we launch [the master plan], it will depend on our continued enrollment growth.”

To accomplish the Rochester campus’s goals, the new plan includes partnerships with the city of Rochester, Olmsted County and the Mayo School of Health Sciences. The Rochester campus currently partners with the Mayo School to offer students a bachelor’s degree in health professions.

Some University administrators think the expansion of the Rochester campus could increase competition between the Mayo School and the Twin Cities’ Medical School.

That was one of the issues regents discussed with President Eric Kaler and school administrators when they reviewed the plan, Board Vice Chair Dean Johnson said.

“We’d like to think we’re in it together and not trying to outdo one another, but it is what it is. It’s two separate entities,” he said. “We’re very cognizant of that.”

The Mayo School does have some partner relationships with the Medical School, but its closest relationship is with the Rochester campus, Mayo School Dean Michael Silber said.

“We’re very supportive of [the Rochester campus],” he said. “We support the expansion and [its] growth.”

Rochester administrators hope they can prepare students for Twin Cities graduate programs in the health sciences, Hesley said, adding that many of the University’s initiatives revolve around filling the health care pipeline.

For example, in Kaler’s biennial budget request for the next two academic years, the University’s president proposed appropriating nearly $10 million toward the health sciences.

“We feel we are in the best position to help fill that pipeline,” Hesley said.

The master plan purposefully spans decades, Lehmkuhle said, so campus leaders can make adjustments as time progresses.

“This is a long, 20-year plan. A lot of things can happen between then and now,” he said. “It may play out a little differently.”

Lehmkuhle said he thought the plan was well-received at the regents’ meeting earlier this month, and he’s optimistic the plan will be approved.

“It’s well on its way,” Regent Johnson said. “That’s not to say there won’t be some amendments and differences of opinion and movement.”