U strengthens ties with state

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in an eight-part series examining the University 2000 initiative.
Joe Carlson
and Jessica Steeno

When legislators chartered the University, they did so with the assumption that the people of the state would have access to the resources of the institution they support.
With this goal in mind, administrators made strengthening the University’s access and outreach efforts the fourth strategic directive of University 2000.
But at the halfway point of the U2000 planning effort, traditional outreach programs have taken a back seat to attempts to make the school more accessible. U2000 has had a radical impact on what has become University College, while the Minnesota Extension Service — a program devoted entirely to outreach to the state — has been left largely unchanged by strategic planning efforts.
Many of the outreach and extension programs have been in place since the early 1900s, but with modern emphasis on research and technology, many worry that the outreach part of the University’s mission will get lost.
According to the U2000 document, outreach is “the exchange of knowledge and skills between the institution and society.” As a major land-grant institution, the University has a responsibility to bring the fruits of its research to the community that supported it.
“Outreach at the University of Minnesota … is part of our land-grant mission,” said Katherine Fennelly, dean of the extension service. “It entails working through partnerships with community organizations and residents of the state to help them make connections to the resources in the University,” Fennelly said.
The land-grant mission of the University is an anachronism to many contemporary students who see the school as a large urban campus with a predominantly suburban population. But the University’s ties to the state remain strong.
In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act, which created the land-grant university system. Congress donated public lands in each state to create colleges “for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts.”
To emphasize this benefit for the state, the University made outreach one of its three major goals, along with research and teaching.
U2000 was intended to strengthen that commitment. Administrators also tacked the word “access” on outreach in the plan, but some find “access” too vague an imperative.
“In the strategic direction of U2000 called “outreach,” it is outreach and access together,” said Associate Provost for Professional Studies Jeanne Markell. “And that, in some ways, is confusing … but it also points out how these are arbitrary lines, and that really isn’t a clear-cut outreach, teaching, and research circle; they kind of overlap.”
There are hundreds of University programs that help fulfill the outreach and access mission, said Gene Allen, Provost for Professional Studies and former chairman of the University’s Outreach Council.
But one program, the extension service, stands above the rest as the University’s most visible commitment to fulfilling its outreach goals.
“We’re in existence because we need to make the connection between the research we’re doing and community issues and concerns” of the state that financially supports the University, Fennelly said.
Extension is an independent unit dedicated to the creation and promotion of links between the research and educational resources of the University and the rural and urban communities of Minnesota. These links are made through extension offices in each of Minnesota’s counties.
“We are the face of the University in 87 counties,” Fennelly said.
There are about 1,000 University faculty members working with extension, about 300 of whom work exclusively for the program. The program is intended to put the University’s faculty and research to work for the state.
“Our campus faculty members are doing applied research which is really extraordinarily important at a land-grant (university),” Fennelly said. “That’s what distinguishes land-grant from private universities, in many ways.”
For example, as a result of this winter’s extreme conditions, many community members have become concerned about flooding and other climate-related problems, Fennelly said. In response, extension is developing an extreme-weather response team.
The team will be “looking at everything from potential impact on crops to indoor air quality issues with mold/mildew, to some of the family stresses, the psychological stress that comes with problems of this sort of problem, to financial impact,” Fennelly said.
Although administrators have listed outreach as one of U2000’s six strategic directions, Fennelly said that both state and federal funding for extension has remained stagnant in the past few years.
“To have a flat source of income at a time when other costs are increasing, means belt-tightening,” Fennelly said. “We’re doing quite a bit of long-range planning and looking at ways to increase revenues from sources other than public funds.”
Although extension’s services are generally free of charge, the department has introduced fees for some services and literature because of a lack of funding.
Currently, extension has agreements to work with about 15 University colleges and all three greater Minnesota campuses. In each unit, extension specifies one faculty member, called the collegiate program leader, who is responsible for making sure that faculty members in his or her college are aware of the University’s extension efforts and if their specific research would be relevant to any extension efforts.
Chuck Casey, the collegiate program leader for Veterinary Medicine, said the faculty members involved with the programs also benefit from their interactions with the public.
“While they bring information out to the public, it is valuable for them to bring information back from the public,” he said. Casey added that faculty members’ interactions with the public may help them look at problems in a different way. “Hopefully, both sides will benefit by that exchange of ideas,” he said.
While extension tries to provide as many services as it can, its programs are confined within the bounds of providing educational resources.
“Our programs always have to have an educational component,” Fennelly said. “We’re not in the business of service provision; we’re in the business of education and making that connection between applied research and needs.”
However, extension is not the only way the University is attempting to reach out to people other than traditional students.
“When the folks who were working on (the U2000) document conceptualized that strategic plan, they were thinking of access to the University for students too,” Markell said.
The realignment of University College represents the bulk of the changes administrators planned to make with U2000 in the area of outreach and access for students.
“U2000 really defined University College,” said Dean of University College Hal Miller.
In July 1996, Continuing Education and Extension and University College merged and took the name of the latter.
University College had previously provided alternatives to traditional department-based undergraduate majors. Continuing Education and Extension offered credit and non-credit evening and weekend courses. All of these services are now offered through the new University College.
The Inter-College Program, one of the degree programs that was offered through the old University College, lets students draw from two colleges to earn their degrees. For example, a student could earn a bachelor of science degree in natural resources and life sciences.
The Program for Individualized Learning, the other original University College degree program, lets students design their own degrees using a mix of departments with traditional day courses, evening courses and even independent study and research.
“We’re also trying to help the other colleges of the University to expand their services to older students,” Miller said, by offering courses in partnership with many of the University’s 195 departments.
The current University College offers a wide variety of classes, mostly during evening hours, to accommodate students who work full-time.
Evening courses are similar in content to day school courses in the same departments, but evening students need not be admitted to a degree-granting program to attend night courses.
“What makes us really accessible is that you don’t have to be admitted to a degree program to take a course,” Miller said.
The college is also authorized to grant four types of undergraduate degrees to its 4,000 students, including a bachelor’s of applied business and a bachelor’s of construction management.
“One of the things we’re trying to accomplish is helping businesses achieve continuing education needs for their employees,” said Associate Dean of University College Ann Pflaum.
The college is not only trying to provide practical experience for its students. It also strives to offer courses that may be too impractical or specialized to warrant a quarter-long course through its non-credit Compleat and Practical Scholar courses.
The courses include “a lot of stuff just to enrich people’s knowledge,” Miller said. “When we designed this, I said, ‘Think not about a four-year curriculum, think about a 40-year curriculum,'” he said.
The courses range from Compleat Scholar self-help courses like Fighting Fair in Intimate Relationships to Practical Scholar courses such as How to Get Into College. Helping people get into college, whether that means freshmen admissions or night programs for working parents, is one of the critical missions of U2000.
Through the reconstituted University College, administrators have made significant progress toward expanding access to the University as a whole.

Tomorrow: U2000 and user-friendliness. For more information, go to /library/focus/U2000.html