Higher education and the new gov.

The Daily Editorial Board’s assertion that my higher education plan disregards the U misses the mark.

Tom Horner

Minnesota needs a vision of higher education that is a strategic blueprint not just for our colleges, universities and students, but also for our stateâÄôs civic and economic success. We need to set outcomes that are essential and then set a course to achieve them. This starts with what may be a once-in-my-lifetime opportunity next year with a new president of the University of Minnesota system, a new chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and a new governor.
If we donâÄôt use that occasion to have a statewide conversation on what we need from our higher education institutions, we will have lost a great opportunity.
I have consistently shared this message while campaigning throughout Minnesota, everywhere from Normandale Community College to St. Cloud State University to the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, where last month I shared my education vision in a public forum. I was perplexed when just a week after that speech this newspaper characterized me as âÄúdisregard[ing]âÄù the University in its September 28 editorial.
Quite the contrary is true. Among the three gubernatorial candidates, it is I who have been the most outspoken and specific in discussing the need for a strong higher education system, starting with the University.
A prosperous state will require that more Minnesotans have some form of post-high school education. According to a recent study at Georgetown University, 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota will require post-secondary education in the year 2018. To get there we must create a seamless, lifelong education system.
It starts by backing up all the way to early childhood education. And at the other end of the spectrum, it means making college more accessible and affordable. We need to be honest as candidates, however, and acknowledge that in 2011, the next governor will inherit a $6 billion budget deficit.
But we cannot continue to cut our higher education funding, even in light of that. As we look to grow MinnesotaâÄôs economy in the industries of the future like life sciences, we do need to invest in our flagship research university. But we need to do much more.
Our two-year community and technical colleges can be gateways. Tuition needs to be affordable and credits need to easily transfer to our four-year universities. As our two-year colleges act as a bridge, our four-year schools also must work in a cohesive way, perhaps with different schools emphasizing different areas of excellence.
It is not only a math problem. Our challenges wonâÄôt be solved if our only policy debates are whether we are spending too much or too little. We need to balance the budget honestly, put an end to higher education cuts and stop making promises upon which we cannot deliver. The next governor must use the bully pulpit to set a vision and ask Minnesotans what they are willing to do to achieve it.
In recent years, I have shared my lifeâÄôs experience by teaching graduate students at the University of St. Thomas. I know students are hungry for lifelong learning, and they are in need of help to acquire it. We will only be able to rally the public to that need âÄî to additional funding âÄî if the candidates elevate the importance of higher education during the campaign so we can continue to engage Minnesotans in the solutions in 2011.