Rochester campus enrollment up; housing costs remain high

Nathan Hall

NROCHESTER, Minn. – No dorms, no student union and the annual talent show is held in the cafeteria.

Enrollment is up at the Rochester campus, the University’s fifth and newest campus and home to IBM and the Mayo Clinic.

Officials said new curriculums being added next semester, including a master’s program in public health, are projected to draw even more students and garner further prestige for one of the University’s fastest-growing extensions.

In 1999, the University Center Rochester – which houses the University’s Rochester campus – merged with Rochester Community and Technical College and the Rochester branch of Winona State University to save resources.

Dick Westerlund, director of academic affairs for the Rochester campus, said there are “not as much leisure activities for campus living” but that most students are working adults who do not require such amenities.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system owns the property and leases the space to the three schools.

“It’s a really unique pilot program and there’s not many like them in the U.S.,” said Jay Hesley, director of the Rochester campus’s communications and outreach department. “They also tried this in Denver, Houston and Tulsa but that’s the only places I’ve heard of so far.”

Three-fourths of the programs offered at the Rochester campus are geared toward graduate students in the medical or engineering fields, but it also offers nine bachelor’s degree tracks.

“I got my first bachelor’s in wildlife biology in Iowa in 2001,” said Brian Brouwer, 24, a sophomore pursuing a nursing degree. “I came out of school at the wrong time, couldn’t find work in my field so I figured it was time for plan ‘B.’ “

The majority of the Rochester campus’s students are married, have children, and take only evening and weekend classes.

“They offered me a degree that doesn’t turn my life upside down, and I can handle the commute,” Brouwer said. “Plus you can’t beat having clinicals done at the Mayo Clinic on your resume.”

Brouwer only spends two days per week in Rochester, which allows him to work full time at a pharmacy in Austin, Minn., while taking most of his classes online.

“This keeps my living expenses down and I can keep my job,” Brouwer said. “Rochester has more of a smaller-town atmosphere. Ö There’s not much here in terms of student life but it’s got what I need for now.”

One way Rochester recruits students such as Brouwer is the TelePro project, which helps full-time, on-the-go workers catch up on classes via instructional television, Internet-based instruction, teleconferencing and other high-tech distance learning.

“It’s ideal for traveling business people and we’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback on it,” Westerlund said.

The project is funded partly by a $10 million technology grant secured from the Legislature and approved by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“There is some overlap and gray areas,” Westerlund said. “We rely heavily on the Twin Cities and other campuses because there isn’t a lot of faculty here.”

However, affordable housing and public transportation are lacking – which could restrain the campus’s growth.

Rochester’s population – 85,800 – eclipsed Duluth and other cities with University campuses years ago.

Many University classrooms are located off a main thoroughfare several miles from the main campus.

Both sites are virtually inaccessible without a car and students said nighttime bus service is often erratic.

Ruth Lindquist, an associate dean in the University’s School of Nursing, said “it would be very exciting” if Rochester becomes a residential campus, but she does not know how that would happen.