Friday, January 30, 2009

System testifies on budget cuts, access

System testifies on budget cuts
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system testified in front of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy committee yesterday on the earlier cuts in 2003, the FY2009 unallotment of $20 million and what the system is facing now, the Governor's proposed cut of $146 million. Trustee Tom Renier told committee members that the system is sobered by the size of the state budget deficit. Renier said, "Our presidents are used to making tough decisions, and for the past several months they have been engaged in planning for a variety of budget scenarios." Renier continued, "As a board, we intend to move thoughtfully and to make sure we have all the information we need to make decisions that will be in the best interest of our students and of the state of Minnesota."

Chancellor Jim McCormick testified that he understands the difficult decisions ahead for lawmakers, but he believes it is important to remember that higher education is the key to economic recovery. McCormick said, "Our colleges and universities are the place where laid-off workers will turn to learn new skills for new jobs. Our colleges and universities offer everything from short-term programs to associate, bachelor’s and graduate degree programs."
Laura King, vice chancellor and CFO, laid out a variety of potential consequences to the governor’s proposed 10.7 percent funding reduction, including higher tuition rates, reduced course offerings, enrollment caps and reduced student services.

Both Presidents Richard Davenport, Minnesota State University, Mankato and Ann Wynia, North Hennepin Community College discussed the impact the cuts would have on their institutions. Davenport said his institution is already preparing for cuts by eliminating programs, leaving staff positions vacant, and even moving some classes to a local movie theater to allow for more students per class.

Access initiatives discussed in Senate
Access is a priority of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. This was the message convened to the Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Committee yesterday. In 2007, the Legislature awarded the system money to increase access for first-generation, low-income and minority students, those traditionally underrepresented in higher education. "As we enable these students, we are going to have a world-class workforce in Minnesota," said Chancellor Jim McCormick.

Linda Baer, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs discussed the system's goals for increased enrollment, retention, and graduation of underserved populations. She said the four main goals include increased access and opportunity, the promotion and measurement of high-quality learning programs and services, enhancement of the economic competitiveness of the state and its regions, and innovation for current and future educational needs.

Dr. Whitney Harris, executive director of multiculturalism said that the state should be mindful of recruiting new students, especially as the demographics change. He said that a focus group showed that students in the underrepresented categories said their parents did not know how to help them, they lacked role models within their communities and they did not know how to access financial aid. He shared the success of Super Weekend with the committee members; last week the system went to neighborhoods and "brought college information to where they (potential and current students) are," Harris said.

President Donovan Schwichtenberg of Saint Paul College shared the success of the Power of You program, which allows high school graduates of Minneapolis and St. Paul schools to attend college for free if they meet certain criteria. Schwichtenberg said that the program has nearly doubled enrollment for first generation and minority students. He also said that the program has increased enrollment, retention and graduation rates among this cohort.

Also testifying was Louis Mendoza, with the Office of Equity and Diversity at the University of Minnesota. Mendoza spoke about the University's efforts to recruit and integrate students from underserved populations. The different programs implemented at the University work to foster a culture of belonging said Mendoza. Students involved in the multicultural programs take classes together, are paired with mentors, and are involved in tutoring programs, he said.

Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota, spoke about the Access to Success (ATS) program designed to serve students who have demonstrated strong potential to succeed, but whose high school records have not matched the typical profile of students admitted to the college. He said three colleges participate in the program, College of Education and Human Development, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Sciences, and the College of Liberal Arts, with each developing its own unique program to ensure success for ATS students.

Director of Community Outreach with the Office of Higher Education, Mary Lou Dresbach, spoke about the Get Ready program, an early college awareness program targeted to lower income students and students of color, primarily funded through a federal grant. The program is currently in eleven schools throughout St. Paul and Minneapolis and begins working with students in fourth grade, as well as teachers and counselors.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

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