Students are struggling to pay their bills, faculty shortages are forcing professors to keep up, and local businesses need college-educated workers more than ever.
Leaders of Minnesota’s state college system heard this and more during a visit to Minnesota State University on Monday as they prepare a budget proposal for submission to the Minnesota Legislature. ‘State.
“We will do everything we can,” Roger Moe, chairman of the Minnesota State Board of Trustees, said at the end of the listening session at the Centennial Student Union. “But we need your support.”
The system of seven state universities and 26 colleges will compete during the legislative session with K-12 schools, health and wellness programs, prisons and other state-funded initiatives for a reduction in Minnesota’s biennial budget. And over the past 27 years, higher education has not won this competition, seeing its share of the state budget fall from 12.2% to 6.5%.
System Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said he heard a harmonious message from business leaders, students and university leaders — that Minnesota’s students, its colleges and its economy all benefit when higher education thrives.
“Each one was affirming what the other was saying, which was music to my ears,” Malhotra said.
Which did not mean that the testimony on the current situation was a happy tune.
Student body president Emma Zellmer called for an increase in state funding large enough to allow tuition fees to be frozen. While that may echo his predecessors for generations, Zellmer also called for increased funding for campus pantries, emergency meal assistance in MSU cafeterias, more mental health counselors, and increased salaries of work-study students on campus to bring hourly rates closer to those paid in fast food restaurants.
Students, administrators and faculty have called for funding that will make it easier to graduate in four years – money for more faculty advisors, for scholarship programs to ease the pressure on students who occupy several jobs during the school year, to fill faculty vacancies to offer the courses students need to complete their studies.
“We are so understaffed that every one of our teachers is working to their maximum capacity,” said Alex Panahon, a teacher in the Department of Special Education. “…We just don’t have enough teachers to teach the classes we want to teach.”
Amy Staloch, director of communications and student success systems at MSU, said many students struggle to keep up with academics while working 20 to 40 hours a week.
“The cost of rent in Mankato is horrible,” Staloch said, suggesting one option would be to set up programs where local businesses offer paid apprenticeships in students’ fields of study to allow them to earn and earn. learn simultaneously.
Brenda Flannery, dean of the College of Business, said employers – desperate for employees at a time of extremely low unemployment – could partner with the state to provide scholarships. And she said more needs to be done to get Minnesota companies to tap into MSU’s large international student population when hiring college graduates.
Two decades ago, state appropriations covered about two-thirds of the cost of a college education, with student-funded tuition providing the other third. It’s now a 50-50 proposition, which makes maintaining enrollment even more critical to an institution’s financial stability.
State funding will also be essential in this effort, according to David Jones, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management.
An infusion of scholarship money at places like MSU is needed because the Wisconsin state university system and the University of Minnesota’s outdoor campuses now offer higher financial packages to high school students, Jones said. And if high school graduates from south-central Minnesota go to La Crosse, Eau Claire, or Duluth to attend college, it will be that much harder for businesses in the Mankato area to attract them after they graduate. of four years.
“Keep that talent at home and meet everyone’s needs,” Jones said of area employers.
Employers are also looking to diversify their workforce to match the state’s growing diversity — particularly in law enforcement, teaching and nursing, according to Henry Morris, vice president of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at MSU. This means that state universities must invest in recruiting and graduating more minority students.
Scholarships are a way to encourage diverse students to consider careers in areas that have special needs, Morris said.
Sociology and remedial professor Sherrise Truesdale-Moore said a more diverse faculty is a proven way to attract more diverse students. Truesdale-Moore also spoke about the need to bring students who will be Minnesota’s future police or corrections officers to have real-world experiences in Minnesota communities with diverse populations.
“But these things are not easily funded by ourselves,” she said. “…This cannot be accomplished without funding.”
What was the overall theme of the 90-minute listening session, a session that Moe and Malhotra said would be invaluable as the board finalizes its budget proposal later this year and presents it to the Legislature in beginning of next year.
Whatever the decision of the Legislative Assembly, it will have a wide impact. The college system has approximately 300,000 students and 14,400 faculty and staff.
It is the third-largest two- and four-year college system in America, behind the City University of New York and State University of New York systems, according to Bill Maki, vice chancellor of finance and facilities. of the State of Minnesota. .
“It also makes us the third largest employer in the state behind Mayo Clinic and Allina Health,” Maki said.