Study: Higher-ed at risk

The study found a 10-year trend to have less state investment and higher tuition costs.

by Mehgan Lee

The future of higher education in Minnesota is in danger, according to a study released Tuesday by the Citizens League, an independent, nonpartisan group.

The group’s executive director, Sean Kershaw, said that although Minnesota does well “on the surface,” the state should be concerned about trends that will occur in the next 10 years.

Those trends include less state investment in higher education institutions while tuition rates soar and more jobs require college degrees, Kershaw said. And foreign countries are increasing the size of their skilled workforces, making global competition fiercer, he said.

Meanwhile, Minnesota’s high school graduates are increasingly underprepared for college, according to the study. More than 30 percent require remedial classes when they enroll in higher education institutions. The study also reported that the number of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in higher education institutions dropped 7 percent from 1992 to 2002.

Yet, Minnesota needs higher education more than other states, Kershaw said.

“Minnesota is a state that can’t rely on our weather to attract people,” he said. “We depend on higher education for much of our quality of life and our success.”

The Citizens League offered a number of recommendations to place higher education back on the right track, including investing more money in University research.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said he agreed the University needs more funding for research.

“The University is a highly respected institution nationally and internationally because of its quality of research,” he said. “And that attracts grant money and other money into the state that will go elsewhere if we let the research and researchers go away.”

The Citizens League also called for Minnesota State

Colleges and Universities to have a larger role in land grants. Land grants ensure the research conducted at public institutions helps the community.

The intention of the recommendation was not to take land grants away from the University, but to try to coordinate land grants among institutions, Kershaw said.

University President Bob Bruininks said he did not understand that recommendation and felt the University should retain its land-grant status.

“There’s no advantage to transferring the responsibility,” he said.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said the land grant recommendation sounded bad for the University.

“Some institutions will be the winners, and some will be the losers,” she said. “I fear for the University of Minnesota.”

The Citizens League also recommended the development of a task force to look at the accessibility and affordability of higher-education and a higher education performance council. The council would be responsible for creating online report cards of higher education institutions in Minnesota.

Sen. David Hahn, R-Eden Prairie, said he believed the report cards would show that there is not much difference between the costs of private and public institutions. He said he believes the tuition cost projections released by the public universities are inaccurate now.

The report cards would “let institutions compete on the basis of what they have to offer, instead of falsely saying it’s cheaper,” he said.