ROCHESTER, Minn. — When Michelle Stahlman moved this spring from Pennsylvania to Rochester, Minn., for her spouse’s job at Mayo Clinic, she thought her graduate studies would have to wait.
Ninety minutes south of the Twin Cities and busy with a new full-time job, Stahlman, 23, decided to hold off on her master’s degree until she could handle the commute to the University’s Twin Cities campus.
However, with the help of the telephone book and a University administrator, Stahlman learned she could get her master’s degree in human resources development without leaving her new hometown, Rochester.
One night each week, Stahlman drives 15 minutes to the University Center Rochester — a center comprised of the University of Minnesota, Winona State University and Rochester Community and Technical College — to continue her education.
Though Stahlman is on the way to her master’s degree, the Rochester community insists the University needs to do more to meet its growing technical, professional and medical industry needs. For more than 40 years, Rochester — the state’s fifth-largest city — has argued unsuccessfully for their own four-year University.
Finally, this fast-growing southeastern Minnesota agricultural community is getting its way.
University administrators started plans last March for what might become a Rochester branch campus after getting a go-ahead from state legislators, the city of Rochester, the Board of Regents and University President Mark Yudof.
But first, the University must negotiate with the two Minnesota State Colleges and Universities institutions in Rochester — Winona State University and the Rochester Community and Technical College.
Winona State, which has offered classes in Rochester since 1921, has more than 1,500 students. Rochester Community and Technical College, based in Rochester since 1915, has about 6,000 students. The University, which established a Rochester center in 1966, has about 1,000.
The three colleges joined forces in 1993 as the University Center Rochester, but the collaboration still wasn’t the four-year University the Rochester community had hoped for.
But now, if the colleges can collaborate, they might be able to offer more. By Jan. 30, the three colleges must present a master plan to the state Legislature and governor.
Apples and oranges
Neither Rochester Community and Technical College nor Winona State could offer Stahlman the master’s program she was looking for.
As with the entire MnSCU and University systems, Rochester’s two MnSCU colleges have different missions than the University programs. MnSCU’s 36 state universities, community and technical colleges and one Japanese campus currently serve more students than any other state higher-education system. The University system is the state’s major research school and land-grant university.
Rochester Community and Technical College primarily provides lower-division baccalaureate programs and customized training.
Winona State focuses on upper-division liberal arts education, some technical bachelor’s programs and a few master’s programs.
The University’s programs include professional, graduate and technical courses.
Both the University and Rochester would benefit from a Rochester expansion, said Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the Academic Health Center.
For instance, the state gave the University $500,000 annually out of the tobacco endowment to work cooperatively with Mayo.
The University’s Academic Health Center and Mayo are exploring collaborative medical and technological programs.
But while the University irons out the details of these collaborations, other programs are growing.
Stahlman’s program, offered out of the College of Education and Human Development in Rochester, is one of the University’s successes.
After the University hired program director Marie Maher, a long-time Rochester resident and former Winona State instructor, program enrollment increased from 37 students to 208.
“Eventually all the colleges would like to do this,” Maher said.
Maher has tried to make higher education more accessible through evening and weekend classes, increased computer access and helping students plan their post-graduate studies.
But student service might be the exception rather than the rule.
Although the three colleges are trying to service students better, “we just haven’t organized ourselves well,” said Bob Bruininks, University executive vice president and provost.
The University and MnSCU are attempting to make Rochester more seamless for students by overcoming differing tuition, registration and financial aid programs.
“We don’t tend to do things alike,” said Mary Heltsley, University interim provost for Rochester and associate vice president of outreach.
Regents approved Heltsley’s provost position in November after Bruininks selected her for the leadership role.
But the title is more than a title. Heltsley said it allows her to make decisions in Rochester rather than always returning to the Twin Cities campus for administrative concerns.
The complexity of the partnership was evident at a recent meeting with the educational leaders of the three schools.
MnSCU Vice Chancellor Linda Baer pointed to Rochester’s entrance sign, which lists the three partner institutions.
“That’s a good partnership,” Baer said. “That’s a first for this state to see a sign like that in one place.”
Don Supulla, Rochester Community and Technical College interim president, agreed.
“Contrary to popular belief you will realize that, purple and white, blue and yellow, and maroon and gold really do complement one another,” he said.
Winona State, however, is more threatened by the University, as its services compete with the University more than those of Rochester Community and Technical College.
Rochester resident and Regent H. Bryan Neel III said the colleges are required to avoid duplicating courses and competing for potential students.
“We have already established a relationship with MnSCU and a deal is a deal,” Neel said. “The bottom line is once this institution grows in depth and breadth, courses and services, it will bring people to other parts of the system.”
A slighted city
Long before Stahlman was born, the Rochester community began asking for a four-year, degree-granting University.
“We have needed a much stronger presence of the University of Minnesota in Rochester for 40 years,” said Rep. Dave Bishop, R-Rochester. But for years the DFL and iron range had a stronghold on key legislative committees and kept Rochester away from the budgetary table.
“The water runs south while the money runs north,” Bishop said. “Olmsted County, for the last 10 years, has been sending $100 million per year to St. Paul while getting back only $60 million per year in benefits.”
At the beginning of the 1999 legislative session, however, Bishop told the House speaker that higher education in Rochester was his top priority.
“I said we need the presence, we need the programs, we need the identification and we need the funding,” he said. “We got everything except the funding.”
However, Bishop said legislative leadership has not been the only change. The University and MnSCU’s collaboration and Yudof’s commitment to the expansion showed legislators the institutional commitment.
“It’s a rather tricky dance we have to do to get (legislative) emphasis on University of Minnesota and keep Winona State and MnSCU and Rochester Community College at the same time,” Bishop said.
“Usually you have one kind of institution expand in a community, but not two or three or four,” he said. However, Rochester’s growth created a demand for this “higher-education conglomerate,” Bishop said.
Rochester’s relentless rally
Money Magazine recently named Rochester America’s best small city. The ranking — based on many factors, including its 1.4 percent unemployment rate, strong high-school graduation rate and low levels of crime — indicates Rochester might have everything but employees to fill its technical and medical jobs and a University to train them.
“(Rochester) is a mini-Silicon Valley in an agricultural environment,” said Regent Neel.
For six years, Neel said he tried to muster regent support for a Rochester campus. His efforts were paid back this month at the two-day monthly regent meeting held at the University Center Rochester.
In addition to board business, regents met with Rochester community and educational leaders.
At one meeting, Joe Gibilsco, chair of the Rochester Center Advisory Committee, told regents that the community still wants more than “expanding presence” from the University; they want a branch campus.
Gibilsco told University administrators that the Rochester community was thrilled when they heard they might get a Rochester branch campus.
“Now what we hear is that the University is not doing that, but instead is `expanding its presence in Rochester,'” Gibilsco said.
That dampened supporters’ spirits and fueled rumors that the University’s stay is temporary if Rochester fails to come up with immediate student body growth, Gibilsco said.
He pointed to the University’s newly appointed interim provost and said her title is better than chief administrative officer but the community would prefer a chancellor.
“This is a community well-informed on academic hierarchy,” Gibilsco said. “The term chancellor carries with it evidence that there is a long-term commitment.”
Valerie Halverson Pace, chairwoman of the Greater Rochester Area University Center, agreed that the University needs to increase its presence in Rochester.
“The University of Minnesota ranked lowest of recognition amongst the student marketplace,” she said, referring to a recent survey. “We cannot allow the private institutions to out-market in this community.”
Pace, an IBM employee, said the global business that Rochester’s technology and medical businesses operate in could be exported internationally as a part of Rochester’s higher education offerings. Pace added, “we would like to do that with the University of Minnesota as a partner.”
Yudof told the community leaders that, all things being equal, Rochester would get its branch because the community has all the elements for higher-education investment.
However, he said past educational and political decisions have affected Rochester’s higher-education situation.
The issue of money must be addressed, Yudof said. “If we are going to have to pull money out of other programs it will go a lot more slowly than it would be if someone said you need a campus here and here is some money to get it done. That is just the way it works.”
Drops in a bucket
The state Legislature turned down the University’s request for $5.3 million for Rochester’s professors, classes, staff and registration system.
What the University got was less than half that amount: $2.5 million to be spent from July 1999 through June 2001 in addition to the $1.3 million the University spends on Rochester each year.
The new legislative funding, combined with current expenditures, barely equals a quarter of the $11 million spent annually on the University’s smallest branch campus in Crookston.
With the limited size of the Rochester budget, the University must deliver its academic programs in a much different way than other campuses, said Lincoln Kallsen, University budget officer.
“The University is not looking to sprinkle water around just to be generous or charitable,” Bishop said.
Resources are not coming out of existing programs or units and not replicating what is done on the Twin Cities or any other campus, said Judith Martin, geography professor and chairwoman of the state Senate committee on educational policy.
Bruininks, the University administrator who carved out much of the agreement with MnSCU and legislators, said that while the University is not committing to a Rochester branch at this time, it is a long-term University goal.
“For me,” Neel said, “there is no question this will succeed.”
This is good news to many Rochester residents, including Stahlman, who is pleased with her new school.
“I feel fortunate I did move to Rochester at a time the University of Minnesota was making its presence more known,” Stahlman said. “I’m glad they are here.”
Kristin Gustafson covers University administration and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3211.