The following article is excerpted from “A Conversation with the Board of Trustees,” Sept. 20, on a proposed strategic framework for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
We sit together today to begin a conversation about the future of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) and our role in driving the vitality of our state.
For more than 150 years, our colleges and universities have prepared Minnesota’s work force; we have supplied skilled employees for new and growing companies; we have graduated entrepreneurs who have started businesses in every town of our state; and we have educated the Minnesotans who knit together the fabric of our communities.
That role cannot diminish in the face of current financial challenges. Quite the contrary, our role as a driver of Minnesota’s economy is more important than ever, and the priorities we set over the next few weeks must enrich the education and lives of our students; must create jobs; and must contribute to the prosperity of businesses and communities across the state.
The time to act is now, and we are ready. We are prepared to make tough choices and to design new ways of doing things. We are prepared to think differently and to work together differently, and we are prepared to lead and partner in more strategic ways.
Today I will outline a strategic framework for this great system — one that builds on our past successes, honors our core commitments and defines our future value to the people of Minnesota.
I want to take some time to set the stage and lay out a proposed strategy. I want to begin, though, by sharing with you what I’ve learned since Feb. 2.
The listening campaign
During the past seven-and-a-half months, Maria Antonia and I traveled more than 4,000 miles to 29 of our colleges and universities from Austin to Thief River Falls, from Winona to Moorhead, and to nearly every community in between. I met with more than 1,000 faculty, students and staff, and I have been inspired. I’ve met with Gov. Dayton, his commissioners and legislative leaders. I’ve sought counsel from representatives of organized labor, business and major foundations as well as civic leaders across Minnesota.
Simply put, I learned: Minnesota is counting on us to ensure it has the skilled workers necessary for vital communities and a thriving economy. Minnesota is counting on us to open the doors of educational opportunity to all Minnesotans. Minnesota is counting on us to provide extremely high value at an affordable price.
As you well know our colleges and universities are also facing critical challenges. Let me focus on four of them.
1: Dramatic cuts in state support. There has been a 48 percent cut in real dollars on a full-year equivalent student basis since 2000.
2: The shift of the cost from the state to students. The reduction of state support has shifted the cost of college from the state to students. 2002: 66 percent state vs. 34 percent tuition; 2013: 39 percent state versus 61 percent tuition. It is not that the cost of higher education in our system has been rising; it’s who pays the cost that has changed.
3: New kinds of students. Savvy students are demanding high-tech ways to learn. Within a decade, students of color will be nearly one-fourth of Minnesota’s high school graduates. First generation college students will continue to grow as will the number of students from families with very modest financial means. All these changes will require new strategies to effectively serve the increasingly diverse and technologically sophisticated students and to ensure their success.
4: We need to manage rising costs. The costs of technology, increased government regulations, utilities and health benefits. Competition for top faculty and staff will increase.
If we do not make some changes, the costs will grow way beyond our resources. In short, we are facing tectonic changes and challenges.
Surviving the perfect storm
This is a perfect storm, but it’s even worse than that. It is a perfect storm that’s not going away. In the face of these challenges, the greatest risk is the risk of business as usual. Continuing to cut budgets and grow revenue as we have done over the past decade may be necessary, but it is not sufficient.
We need to do much more than that:
• Redesign. We need to redesign the ways we do things — focusing on outcomes and incentives; be willing to challenge traditions and conventions.
• Empower. We need to empower our colleges and universities, our faculty and staff, to be innovative and entrepreneurial. We need to unleash the full creative potential of our faculty and staff to better serve students, their communities and Minnesota.
• Partner. We need to partner in new ways — working statewide for the greatest impact with others who share our passions and our values. We need to get the right people together around the right questions to drive the right solutions.
These are the tools that will allow us to achieve new heights of service and quality. These are the foundation for what I’m calling our “strategic framework.”
The framework entails three fundamental commitments. The priorities moving forward will emerge from consultation with the Leadership Council, with faculty, students and staff. But let me give you some initial thoughts.
1. Ensure access to an extraordinary education for all Minnesotans
An extraordinary education is assessed not by looking at the quality of our freshmen, but by looking at the quality of our graduates: their capacities and skills, the rate at which they pass accreditation exams, secure employment or get accepted to advanced degree programs. Feedback from employers is critical. An extraordinary education means graduates who have the capacity to adapt to the four or more careers they are likely to have over their lifetimes; think independently and critically; resourcefully applying knowledge to new problems; and work effectively across cultural and geographic boundaries.
We must say to every Minnesotan, “We have a place for you.” We must be the place of hope and opportunity serving all Minnesotans. Access means that students from all backgrounds and levels of preparation are welcome and will succeed. We believe in the potential of all students — not only those in the top 10 percent of their high school class. We will provide programs that meet their needs at times and places that allow them to be successful. College will be affordable for students from families of modest financial means.
How will we do it? Keep tuition as low as we reasonably can, striking the right balance between access and quality. Provide the student support services that will ensure that all students will succeed. Increase the flexibility with which students can access courses and programs at a distance, in the evening, on weekends and over the summer.
2. Be the partner of choice to meet Minnesota’s work-force and community needs
Minnesota needs a substantially better-educated work force if our state is going to be competitive in the global economy. That will require not only an extraordinary education by 21st century standards but more strategic partnerships and more targeted ways to solve problems and create opportunities. Being the partner of choice means we are the first call for businesses and communities when they need our help. It means they trust us to deliver an education that will enhance the skills and knowledge of employees. We have ongoing relationships that make us an inextricable part of the ongoing conversation. We scale up local solutions to become statewide strategies.
How will we deliver the workforce of the future for Minnesota? An extraordinary education is part of the answer. Some of the ideas are all about partnership. Partner with K-12 to increase the number of college-ready students. I have already begun working with Department of Education Commissioner Cassellius to do just that.
We will partner with the Department of Employment and Economic Development and businesses to identify work-force needs and forge a statewide plan to meet those needs. We need plans both for each region and for each sector (e.g., health care, precision manufacturing, financial services, bio-tech). We will partner with DEED, workforce centers and businesses to enable more people to more easily update skills and prepare for new careers. We must dramatically increase retention and shorten time to completion of certificates and degrees, reduce the income and racial gaps in completion rates. We know we’re on the right track when businesses in communities across the state have our faculty, and our colleges and universities on their speed dial.
3. Deliver to students, employers, communities and taxpayers the best value and most affordable option. Taxpayers and students demand and deserve the best return on their investment dollar. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will deliver that return.
We create value for students by providing an extraordinary education at an affordable price and preparing them for work, careers and what’s next. We deliver value to employers by collaborating with them to educate students who are knowledgeable and prepared to meet workforce needs now and into the future and helping them solve real-world problems. We add value to communities and taxpayers by providing a high return for the public investment and providing students who keep communities strong.
How will we deliver the highest value at an affordable cost? Among other things, we must aggressively reduce costs. Some of the ideas on the table include: put shared services on steroids to substantially reduce administrative overhead costs. We must also increase collaboration with the University of Minnesota, with private colleges and with others to reduce costs. Redesign our e-education strategy to develop better courses that can be shared across colleges and universities, and serve more students in more cost-effective ways. As we develop statewide academic plans to meet work-force needs, we must identify the places where we can reduce unnecessary duplication, and use existing infrastructure more efficiently. This is just a sampling of the ideas that have surfaced.
In conclusion, advancing this strategic framework will require enormous energy and creativity. We must make tough choices. We must think differently and work together differently; and we must lead in more strategic ways. Making this strategy pay off for Minnesota will require leadership and action, patience and tenacity. It will require detailed plans and thoughtful consultation. But most of all, it will require us to work smart and work together.
We will declare victory when every Minnesotan has the ability to attend — and graduate from — one of our colleges or universities, and when higher education is within reach of all families.
And we’ll celebrate when the Minnesota economy returns us to prosperity. Given this defining moment in our state’s history, consider the ideas I’ve shared with you today as a call to action.
Minnesota is counting on us.
Steven J. Rosenstone is the chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.