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New MnSCU boss predicts change, hard decisions on the horizon

Chancellor Steven Rosensto-ne answers a question from Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system Tr-ustee Christine Rice during his first appearance in front of the higher education bo-ard as its top staffer. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- The new leader of Minnesota's 31-school higher education system told his bosses Tuesday that tough choices are ahead and predicted dramatic changes.

"The greatest risk we face is the risk of business as usual," Chancellor Steven Rosenstone told the MnSCU Board of Trustees, which governs state-run technical and two-year community colleges as well as four-year universities.

It was Rosenstone's first meeting with the board after taking the system's top job Aug. 1.

"We need to redesign the way we do things," he said in a 44-minute speech, promising that details will come beginning in November.

The new chancellor, a former University of Minnesota administrator, promised to be aggressive about providing a quality education and containing costs.

President Edna Szymanski of Minnesota State University-Moorhead told the board "we are excited" about the new chancellor.

"We accept the chancellor and we will follow."

Rosenstone emphasized the need to help areas outside of the Twin Cities.

"We cannot forget greater Minnesota," he told the board. "Some areas of greater Minnesota are at risk as a result of population declines, making it difficult for many businesses to find skilled workers."

MnSCU needs to find a way to provide graduates to those firms, he added.

Rosenstone called for MnSCU to work more closely with others around the state, such as those businesses that lack well-trained workers.

President Kevin Kopischke of Alexandria Technical College said one need he sees from a rural perspective is making sure that every student who is academically prepared be able to take MnSCU classes, which are held in all parts of the state. The other state-run system, the University of Minnesota, has just five campuses.

President Richard Davenport of Minnesota State University-Mankato said one problem is that the number of rural Minnesota students is dropping while school costs remain the same.

Rosenstone gave the board a framework that could be followed as the system looks toward the future:

- Ensure an "excellent education" for all Minnesotans. Accessibility is important, he said, including more emphasis on retraining workers and holding more classes, in person or online, at nights, summers and weekends.

- Work with businesses, the University of Minnesota, private colleges and other groups. By working with businesses, for instance, MnSCU can provide certificate, diploma and degree programs needed to keep Minnesotans employed, he added.

- MnSCU must deliver a good value, including keeping tuition as low as possible. For instance, he said, that the system may need to look at developing some statewide classes, such as a basic English class, instead of each school preparing its own.

Rosenstone said he drew up the three-fold framework after talking to college presidents and others as part of a 4,000-mile road trip since the board hired him seven months ago. He spent considerable time traveling the state even before he took over the job Aug. 1.

He promised "to ask the questions that will be hard to ask."

State and higher education financial problems mean Rosenstone cannot wait long to begin making changes: "There is a sense of urgency here."

"We must make some tough choices," "Rosenstone said. "We must think differently."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.