UMR, Winona State collaborate

The two schools plan on sharing resources that students from both campuses can use.

Mike Rose

Separated by about an hour drive on Interstate 90, Winona State University and the University’s new Rochester campus have started to focus on building a complementary – rather than a conflicting – relationship in southeast Minnesota.

“There were a lot of questions and obviously there are concerns at Winona (about) how a new campus in Rochester will impact Winona State University,” University of Minnesota-Rochester Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle said.

Lehmkuhle and Winona State President Judith Ramaley began to lay the groundwork for a collaborative relationship last week when they each visited each other’s respective schools. Lehmkuhle, who said he has been discussing the issue at length since he became chancellor in September, said he was optimistic toward the future relationship between the two schools.

“Our success will depend on the ability to partner,” he said. “(Together) we’re actually providing a full sleet of educational programs here in southeast Minnesota.”

Lehmkuhle said he wasn’t worried about the two schools competing for students, since Rochester will be focused largely on teaching health sciences, while Winona has a more broad educational scope.

“We really believe we’re going to be operating in different market niches,” he said.

The first example of how a collaborative relationship could play out is a lab partnership expected to be signed by both schools by Dec. 17.

The proposed partnership would center around a new clinical lab that recently opened on the Rochester campus. If the deal comes to fruition, Winona State students would have access to the lab, in addition to other students in the region.

“I think for very expensive programs like this one, it makes sense to collaborate,” said Director for University Allied Health Services Charles Christiansen, who is in charge of overseeing the collaboration.

In return, Winona State faculty could teach classes at UMR and vice versa. Christiansen said the collaboration could help address shortages in clinical medicine careers.

“We’re not really graduating enough of that type of professional,” he said.

The idea of sharing resources and faculty is similar to airlines sharing flights, Christiansen said.

“Everyone benefits when they fill up all the seats,” he said.

In addition to this discussed collaboration, the two schools will be working side by side with each other by default: Winona State has a Rochester campus.

Craig Johnson, the director of Winona State Rochester Center, said he thinks having two schools in the same area will benefit the community.

“In general, I think it’s a win-win for everyone,” he said. “It’s a very positive thing for southeast Minnesota.”

Johnson said he agreed with Lehmkuhle that the two schools would serve different niches. He described Winona State Rochester as a nontraditional, commuter campus serving upperclassmen and graduate students. The primary focus of the campus is nursing and education.

Johnson said he was eager to see how the two schools will grow together.

“I think it’s one of the most exciting things happening in the state of Minnesota right now,” he said.

Despite the positive vibes, there has been some criticism of the new Rochester campus and the idea of a collaborative venture with Winona State.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, D-Winona, was originally critical of the new campus. He said he met with University President Bob Bruininks in December 2006 to discuss the school’s curriculum and whether it would compete with Winona State.

Pelowski said so far he has not seen competition between the two schools. However, he is still concerned about the ability of the state to fund the new campus. He cited budget cuts in 2003 and 2004 that led him to his concern.

“These are high-end programs,” Pelowski said of Rochester. “This is about as expensive as it gets.”

Currently, the Rochester campus has roughly 400 students, Lehmkuhle said. His goal is to increase that number to 1,400 within the next two years.

An advertising campaign, set to begin this spring, will target potential students for the school’s initial first-year class in fall 2009.