MnSCU and U seek to collaborate

Less state funding helped accelerate the drive toward working together.

Greta Kaul

Administrators at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have taken the reality of less money and increasing enrollment as a cue that itâÄôs time to work together.

The University and MnSCU share a mission in educating Minnesotans, but compete for state funding in doing so. President Eric Kaler and Steven Rosenstone, the new MnSCU chancellor, are talking about collaboration as a possible solution.

Blueprints for the collaboration are still in the works, but will likely include eliminating program redundancies between the two systems, closing the achievement gap between minority and white students and making sure Minnesota high school graduates are prepared when they arrive at college.

The two administrators spent at least three hours in meetings already this month, Kaler said.

âÄúIf there ever was a time we could afford to have duplication or overlap, itâÄôs not now,âÄù Kaler said in an interview. âÄúWe really have to look very, very carefully at all ways to save money âÄî reduce costs; improve efficiency.âÄù

Enrollment increased at MnSCU schools in 2011 for the fifth consecutive year, according to a MnSCU statement. This fall, there are more than 200,000 students at its 31 schools âÄî including St. Cloud State, Mankato State and Winona State universities.

The University of MinnesotaâÄôs five campuses have 3,000 more students enrolled full-time than in 2008, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

âÄúI think weâÄôre going to hit [the upper limit],âÄù said Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, in response to the UniversityâÄôs decision to increase enrollment by about 1,000 starting in 2012.

 âÄúA lot of it, I think, is driven by concerns about employment and work and creating futures tied to our jobs and careers,âÄù said Larry Litecky, MnSCUâÄôs interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs.

MnSCUâÄôs technical, community, state colleges and universities will be operating with $545 million in 2012 âÄî only $45 million more than its 1998 funding level, when the system had about 60,000 fewer students.

The state Legislature cut more than $100 million from the UniversityâÄôs budget from 2011 to 2012.

 

New leadership

ThereâÄôs been talk of enhancing collaboration since MnSCU schools merged in 1995. The two systems have partnered on technology and educational programs in the past, but new leadership has brought on a new effort.

September marked the beginning of both Kaler and RosenstoneâÄôs first semester in their new jobs, but both are experienced administrators.

Kaler served as provost at Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York education system.

âÄú[ItâÄôs a] 64-campus system with many elements that are similar to MnSCU, so I understand the MnSCU mission and structure,âÄù Kaler said.

Conversely, Rosenstone spent more than a decade at the University, first as dean of the College of Liberal Arts from 1996 to 2007, then as vice president for scholarly and cultural affairs. His appointment to MnSCU chancellor was announced in February.

âÄúHe understands how a large, complex research university works,âÄù Kaler said.

They spoke Monday about the importance of higher education to Minnesota economies at a jobs summit held by Gov. Mark Dayton.

 

Different strokes for different systems

Both Kaler and Rosenstone serve on the P-20 Education Partnership, a group of education, business and government leaders that seeks to integrate and improve MinnesotaâÄôs education system from preschool through college.

âÄúMNSCU is focused on workforce development,âÄù Kaler said. âÄú[The University] is the only research institution in the state of Minnesota, and so our focus on research is very clear âÄî on discovery, on innovation, new cures [and] new ways of thinking.âÄù

âÄúI think a lot of [MnSCUâÄôs] education is tied to middle-level technology jobs,âÄù Litecky said. âÄúOur faculty is typically just focused on teaching and learning âÄî they are not being compensated to be researchers or to do community services.âÄù

Some programs âÄî especially at MnSCU schools âÄî look a lot like undergraduate degrees at the University. But their elimination would disservice Minnesotans, Litecky said.

âÄúWe probably are teaching more Minnesotans right now than any other time in our history. I donâÄôt think thatâÄôs because of unnecessary duplication, I think thatâÄôs because of the demand,âÄù he said.

Rosenstone has alluded to the possibility of sharing more facilities, libraries, technology and financial operations with the University.

âÄúI donâÄôt think we have gotten into the weeds enough on those to see what savings could be realized, but IâÄôm very open to those conversations,âÄù Kaler noted.

âÄúI think there will always be some level of competition [for state funds], but I think the lawmakers do differentiate the missions of the two institutions,âÄù Kaler said.

 

Transfers to the U set to decline

The University has become increasingly selective in its freshman admissions. Its costs have also increased.

Many students, like University sophomore Tom Wilsey, enroll in MnSCU schools with the hope of eventually transferring to the University.

But in mid-October, the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents announced a plan to decrease the number of transfer students accepted at the University. Admitted freshmen in the new enrollment plan will outnumber transfer students 2:1.

Wilsey spent a year taking generals at Normandale Community College, and a year at St. Cloud State studying journalism before he transferred to the University, where he plans to study communications.

âÄúI always wanted to go to the [University], I just couldnâÄôt afford it,âÄù Wilsey said. HeâÄôs a supervisor at a bar downtown and also works as a valet driver to pay for tuition.

Despite the UniversityâÄôs competitive admissions process, he said his classes were comparable at all three schools.

âÄúI donâÄôt think theyâÄôre that different. It all depends on the teacher.âÄù