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Commentary: Make wise investments in higher education

By Dr. Doug Allen

Ridgewater College

Do you know which public higher education system in Minnesota serves 420,000 students and has campuses in 47 communities (roughly 1/3 of the facility space in Minnesota)? If you guessed the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, you’d be correct.

Do you know which college in that system (hint: they’ve once again been ranked in the top 10 percent of colleges in the country) has an estimated annual economic impact of $90 million and an estimated 31,000 alumni? If you answered Ridgewater College, you’d be correct.

I mention those facts as part

of the rationale that supports the value of reinvesting in public higher education in Minnesota. Regardless of whether it’s the annual $90 million economic impact or the impact on 31,000 people,

higher education makes good sense. Ridgewater’s tagline is “creating opportunities and changing lives” and it’s time to reinvest in that effort to create a better Minnesota for all of us.

Fortunately Minnesota is in a unique position this legislative session to invest in higher education. Currently Gov. Dayton is supporting a supplemental budget request that allocates $17 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. A current house bill supports that and appropriates $17 million base funding in fiscal year 2015 to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities for compensation costs, with an additional base increase of $14 million in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The governor deserves kudos for recognizing the value of that investment and thanks for supporting it.

I also want to thank our area legislators — past and future — who recognize the need and value of reversing the trend of disinvestment in higher education. I also want to thank the faculty and staff and students in the MnSCU system as a whole, and particularly at Ridgewater, for their passionate support of the need to reinvest in public higher education — to reinvest in facilities by supporting MnSCU’s capital budget request, and to reinvest in faculty and staff (and thus our students) by supporting our supplemental budget request. Rest assured there will be a positive return on this investment. It’s been estimated that for every dollar of state support, the MnSCU system returns on average over $11.

In visiting with alumni, our business advisory committees, our foundation board, community leaders, and many other supporters, I am always grateful for the willingness of so many to contribute (time, advice, money) to support our efforts. I don’t often make public pleas for support, but I am writing today to ask for your support for the MnSCU supplemental budget request and the bonding proposal that includes key projects that will impact both campuses of the college.

It is crucial to Ridgewater that MnSCU’s capital request is funded. Specifically our top two priorities for HEAPR projects are:

• $1,600,000 to upgrade the heating system at the Willmar campus;

• $754,000 to replace a roof at the Hutchinson campus.

These projects aren’t for new buildings or fancy bells and whistles — they are necessary for basic health and safety and to reduce ongoing maintenance costs and increase efficiency. Currently the governor’s proposed funding level for HEAPR is $40 million. This proposal deserves our support.

I know it can be easy to dismiss the urgency of this because people expect college presidents to advocate for higher education, but an expression of your support for our request, and for the request as a whole, could make a significant difference. Please consider writing or talking to your state legislators and Gov. Dayton to urge them to reinvest in higher education. It’s the right thing to do for the state and its citizens and for this region. Thank you.

Dr. Doug Allen is president of Ridgewater College in Willmar and Hutchinson.