Educators pull up their sleeves

Chris Vetter

Three prominent Minnesota college and university leaders met with members of the House Higher Education Finance Division on Monday — not in competition for money, but for collaboration and cooperation.
University President Nils Hasselmo, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Chancellor Judith Eaton and Minnesota Private College Council President David Laird were a united front in discussing how Minnesota’s higher education systems can work together and improve. The three systems comprise the whole of Minnesota’s colleges and universities, with about 145,000 students enrolled in the MnSCU system, 67,000 at universities and 49,000 in the state’s private colleges.
Hasselmo said regional higher education programs have worked together for a number of years. He gave a wide array of examples, from reciprocity programs that allow Minnesota students to attend college in Wisconsin or North Dakota to shared resources among Big Ten schools.
Because of communication between community colleges and four-year universities, students can transfer with greater ease than in the past, Hasselmo said.
“With proper advising, students can transfer without loss of credit,” he said.
Laird said it is important to remember that competition and cooperation go hand-in-hand. He said universities must have the ability to meet students’ changing needs.
“The demands for knowledge, versatility and adoptability are needed,” Laird said. Today’s students can expect to change careers seven times in their lifetime, and college must prepare them for these changes, he added.
“Maintaining status quo in the future is to lose ground,” Laird said. “If we are not up to the challenge, others will pass us by.”
Funding is needed to meet the changes universities must go through, Laird said.
“This process is expensive, always changing, and ongoing,” Laird said. “The key word of our statement is investment. We need all the support that is feasible.”
One example of cooperation between schools the leaders gave was the Tri-College Initiatives that tie Moorhead State University, Concordia College in Moorhead and North Dakota State University in Fargo together. Currently, students are able to enroll in classes in the other two colleges without paying additional fees. The colleges don’t all offer the same classes, and shuttle buses are available for students to commute between the campuses.
Eaton said it was important to strengthen the bonds between other schools in a similar fashion. These three schools are successfully working together to improve the quality of students’ experience in college, he said.
“This is focused on helping students,” Eaton said. “We’re committed to it because it is a pledge to you, to our students and to Minnesota.”
Rep. John Tuma, R-Northfield, said he was pleased with the spirit of cooperation that the three leaders presented at the meeting.
“This is a breath of fresh air from two years ago, when I started on the committee,” Tuma said. “There was underlying tension among you,” he added.