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Six months into his tour as the boss of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Steve Rosenstone, a career academic, is now all about business.
Rosenstone, a political scientist who is the former dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, now educates more than 200,000 two-year and four-year students at MnSCU's 32 campuses across the state.
That's nearly three MnSCU students for every one at the University of Minnesota.
State funding per MnSCU student has fallen to about $3,900 from nearly $5,000 per year a decade ago. Students, the customers, are paying more as the Minnesota Legislature dropped state funding from 65 to 40 percent of the tab since 2001.
The state share of funding for U of M tuition also has declined.
"We need to run this $2 billion business like a business," said Rosenstone in an interview last week. Rosenstone and his predecessor have made administrative cuts, shuttered facilities and generated productivity gains over the past several years.
"The cost ... of educating a MnSCU student is 10 percent lower than it was a decade ago," Rosenstone said.
Like his counterpart at the University of Minnesota, Eric Kaler, Rosenstone makes a case for more funding. Economic research shows that Minnesota's support of higher education has declined faster than the national average and that the state's better-than-average economy and wealth accumulation in the past half-century has slowed to below average in recent years. Success in years past has been attributed to Minnesota's better-educated workforce.
But Rosenstone isn't holding his breath for more funding during this year's legislative session in St. Paul.
Instead, he has joined the board of the Minnesota Business Partnership, hired a vice chancellor, Michael Dougherty -- a veteran of Pillsbury, Valspar and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce -- and attends every local Rotary, chamber and civic meeting he can to close the loop between a successful MnSCU and healthy communities.
"Higher education traditionally managed 'inputs,' money they could count on from state government," said Duane Benson, a MnSCU board member and former Republican maverick state senator who once ran the Business Partnership. "Rosenstone is focusing more on outputs, delivering more value. Ultimately companies, large or small, say. 'We're in printing or another business, not training. Well, MnSCU is in training.
"To the extent we do a good job, we'll get more dollars from them. And Rosenstone has been able to articulate that we're all in this together. He's more like a CEO than an academic. So far, he's got people listening."
Rosenstone will be judged over the next several years by MnSCU's mandate to educate all Minnesotans who seek postsecondary education as well as implementation of his board-approved plan. He's telling businesses, some of whom are facing short-term skilled labor shortages, that MnSCU schools will be their preferred partner for workforce development and short-term skills updating. He notes that the recession delayed but didn't end the long-term challenge of replacing aging baby boomers.
Moreover, Rosenstone has immersed himself in K-12 education policy, and efforts to get more kids ready for kindergarten and remedy the fact that a quarter of Minnesota kids entering high school don't graduate.
Minnesota's 'skills gap'
Minnesota has a growing "skills gap" that is restraining job creation, Rosenstone said, adding that MnSCU also will be a stalwart of the liberal arts.
"I hear from companies across Minnesota about a dire need for workers, particularly in the manufacturing, biotech and health care sectors," he said last week. "The painful reality is that many of the 167,000 Minnesotans without jobs don't have the education needed for the new economy. And by 2018, 70 percent of all jobs in Minnesota will require some postsecondary education."
Rosenstone points to programs such as the two-year, pre-engineering program at Itasca Community College, a partnership with Minnesota State University Mankato, funded partly by iron mining taxes, that trains young technical students for next-generation jobs in mining as well as so-called green technology.
At Anoka Technical College, the school has trained and placed more than 100 students in the computerized, precision sheet-metal industry, thanks partly to a donation of $2 million worth of equipment by industry.
"They are doing a much better job of teaching this stuff at [Anoka Tech]," said Ed Kittleson, the owner of Micron Metalworks of Ham Lake. "Our equipment is run by computers. We don't have time or money to do all the training. We've sent some of our people to be trained, and we've hired a few more from the school. It allowed them also to step up within our company, cross-train, run different equipment and advance.'' Some of those jobs pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year, Kittleson added.
At Dakota County Technical College, responding partly to needs of nearby Thomson Reuters in Eagan and others, students are being trained as Web developers, data managers and computer troubleshooters.
Rosenstone, 60, has a three-year contract at $360,000 a year. Kaler's annual base pay at the more prestigious U of M is $610,000.
But Rosenstone's performance will be as important for the economic future of Minnesota.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • firstname.lastname@example.org