Funding higher education and the future highlight Rosenmeier talk

The average Minnesota college student graduates with a debt load approaching $30,000. Whether a taxpayer, a student, an employer or a parent, the subject of financing and the future of higher education affects them all. That was part of the messa...

Students, faculty, staff and guests nearly filled the Chalberg Theatre at Central Lakes College for a Rosenmeier forum on the financing and future of higher education in Minnesota. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch.

The average Minnesota college student graduates with a debt load approaching $30,000.

Whether a taxpayer, a student, an employer or a parent, the subject of financing and the future of higher education affects them all. That was part of the message during a Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government presentation Wednesday.

"What you'll hear from us today really is sort of a tale of two cities. On the one hand Minnesota is really at a crossroads when it comes to higher education. There are some very important decisions ahead of us, decisions ahead for all our citizens, about how we want to move into the next decades," said Laura King, vice chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. On the other hand, King said, there are also fabulous things going on in higher education. But, King said, there are bumps ahead.

The Rosenmeier forum - titled Access, Equity and Appropriations: the Financing and Future of Higher Education in Minnesota - nearly filled the Chalberg Theatre at Central Lakes College. Students made up the majority of the audience.

The affordability of college is a prime concern for MnSCU's governing board, King said. She said the perception of the rising cost of higher education with MnSCU is not borne out by the numbers. Costs, she said, have been flat while the revenue mix of state money to student payment has changed. During the Great Recession at its maximum spread and as budgets were strained, the state appropriation paid nearly 40 percent of college costs while students paid 60 percent. King said the state was a substantial contributor of two-thirds of the cost of higher education but that changed during the bad budget years. There has been progress in the last couple of years, she said.


King pointed to revenue per student of $7,187 in 2002 to $7,910 expected in 2016 as a sign tuition costs are not the driving factor. Instead she said it's the funding mix that's changed.

Minnesota had some of the deepest cuts to education in the nation with a 53 percent reduction in state support compared to 29 percent nationally.

"That's what we've been struggling with," King said. She added 38 states in the union spend more on administration costs than Minnesota. King said help from the state Legislature is needed to make tuition affordable and to protect programs offered.

Rep Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education Finance, said he is optimistic the higher education funding through the Legislature will include increases but there are huge challenges between Senate and House bills. He described recent testimony on student debt as startling, with an example of one student incurring $400,000 in debt.

Nornes said getting to a 50-50 percentage of appropriations to student paid tuition is a goal and getting beyond that is very difficult. He said the state grant system has been a lifesaver for students. Nornes said funding options now would do a reasonably good job for MnSCU but leave little for the University of Minnesota. Nornes said he is at least a little hopeful the House higher education bill can be designed to lower the tuition for technical students.

With the budget surplus, Gov. Mark Dayton's budget has $32.5 million for the University of Minnesota, $95 million for MnSCU and $25 million for the state's higher education grant program.

King said MnSCU was looking for $142 million to enable the system to protect services and have a tuition freeze.

A central Minnesota counter trend


A population shift in the state has people moving from the western border into the center of the state, King said.

"There is something happening in this region that is a little counter trend," King said. "There is a population crescent happening from Brainerd down to St. Cloud to the (Twin) Cities and down to Rochester. That crescent is showing population growth. Every other part of the state is showing population decline. And that has really big implications for higher education in Minnesota and for the colleges and universities we have serving out-state growth."

Future population growth will be driven by people moving into the state.

The dip in high school graduates mean there won't be enough people to fill job vacancies left by retiring baby boomers putting tremendous pressure on the workforce, King said. She told the students at the forum that they will be more in demand in the coming years and more valuable to the economy depending on the more skills they have to offer.

Looking at Department of Employment and Economic Development data, King reported central Minnesota is showing a growth from 2015 to 2030 in 18 to 34 year olds.

"That means people want to come to this part of the state, which is great for the economy in this part of the state and it's counter to the trend that's happening elsewhere in the state," she said. Even with the increase in those 34 and younger, King said there isn't a big increase in overall population, meaning everyone here will be more valuable to the local economy.

Changing face of higher ed

Minnesota's college population is becoming more diverse. Students of color increased from 16 percent of the MnSCU college population in 2005 to 27 percent in 2011.


"The face of Minnesota is changing ... and that is showing up in our enrollment and it's showing up in the programs and services we provide," King said. "... Students are significantly more low income. As a result of the Great Recession more and more of our students come from families with very modest means."

King said there was a 75 percent increase in the number of students eligible for federal financial aid between 2008 and 2011.

"All of our credit enrollment growth systemwide between 2005 and 2014 can be attributed to students who came to us in a Pell-eligible category," King said of the federal financial aid for low-income students. "All of our enrollment growth came from our lowest income students."

Going forward there are fewer children in the pipeline and fewer high school graduates. Projections are for dipping high school graduation rates through 2025 before the numbers level off. At the same time there are more baby boomers leaving the workforce. There will be greater demand for an educated labor market in the years ahead, King said. She told the students in the theater they were in the right place in seeking higher education.

"You are going to be more and more in demand in the coming years as the economy becomes more and more complicated."

Toyia Younger, associate vice chancellor at MnSCU, said one of the ways to make college study affordable is to create conditions to help students succeed on their goals, take the courses they need and make a smooth process to transfer credits.

Students without a family member who graduated from college may not be aware of all the options available to them such as mentoring and tutors. These days college students may be raising their own children while caring for aging parents. Younger said smaller class sizes, faculty members who genuinely care about student progress and fostering a learning atmosphere are all major factors in student success.

Initiatives include summer bridge programs to help new students as they enter college, mandatory orientation and first-year programs, supplemental tutors, professional advisers, and transfer options for students who are continuing their education. Other initiatives include early alerts to allow for intervention with students who are struggling in or miss classes.

After the event, Larry Lundblad, Central Lakes College president, said the college is working to do more in communication both internally and externally so people know what it does offer. Lundblad said CLC has experienced a significant growth in American Indian students. Students on campus may not realize all of the services available to them, Lundblad said.

Student services, Lundblad said, is an area CLC needs to expand. He said the early alerts are a good option with software analytics to help identify students who are struggling early rather than waiting for midterms when it may already be too late. Repeating courses adds to costs and discouraged students may drop out.

Among other dignitaries, Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, and Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, attended the session, as did Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson and Brainerd Mayor James Wallin.

Numbers may be surprising:

• 410,000 students a year make the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system (which doesn't include the University of Minnesota or private schools) the fourth largest system in the nation. The system is made of 24 colleges and seven state universities.

• 800 miles separate MnSCU colleges at the northern and southern extremes. The MnSCU system serves an area vast enough to consume 11 East Coast states.

• 58 percent of undergraduates in Minnesota - enrolled in public or private school - come out of the MnSCU system for nearly six out of 10 students. The University of Minnesota system accounts for 15 percent.

• 52,500 MnSCU students represent the first generation of their family to complete college.

• 62,000 are American Indian students or students of color, representing a student population that is becoming more diverse.

• 99,000 students are eligible for federal financial aid through Pell grants, aimed at those with low incomes.

• 11,000 are military veterans.

• 74 percent of jobs in Minnesota will require a post-secondary credential by 2020.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5852 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Panelists at the Rosenmeier forum included: Toyia Younger (left), associate vice chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU); Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education Finance; and Laura King, vice chancellor, MnSCU. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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