A deeper debateon General College

Under current plans, a diverse campus will require better urban high schools.

The plan to effectively eliminate General College as part of an effort to improve the University has spawned emotional and serious debate. But that debate has tended to imply General College is the only way the University can be diverse and provide opportunities to students from all backgrounds.

University President Bob Bruininks has argued a typical graduation rate of 30 percent after six years and 20 percent for minorities is unacceptable. We tend to agree. But the value of General College cannot be limited to statistics. General College provides many unquantifiable benefits.

One cannot easily measure what General College adds to the University by making it unique in its commitment to giving students of failed public schools a second chance and of not contributing to the widening gap between the educated with opportunities and the uneducated unfortunate.

First, we as a university and state must decide whether the University’s mission is to be an elite institution or to provide Minnesota’s students with the most opportunities, and if it can do both. This is the debate we’ve been having.

A separate question is whether the University can maintain and increase campus diversity once General College is eliminated. The University’s plan includes more scholarships, including need-based aid as well as increased efforts to help Minnesota high schools improve their preparation of future applicants. There is room for innovation in Minnesota public schools, especially in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Specifically, the expertise the University has in General College might be able to lead this effort. But make no mistake, unless Minnesota’s urban schools improve, plans will result in the University all but ceasing to offer opportunities to students from weaker schools.

People should be talking about whether the new plan is viable and better meets the goals of General College, not just focusing on its loss. As it stands, the University still must answer these questions, and the University community needs to ask more of them.