The trustees of St. Thomas University recently approved a plan to launch what they consider an innovative approach to two-year education (“St. Thomas reaches out to neediest,” Nov. 18/“St. Thomas steps up for students in need,” Nov. 25). It is commendable when people of means give so generously and passionately of themselves so others can improve their lives through education. However, the plan St. Thomas put forth closely mirrors resources already available at a lower cost to students.
The 30 community and technical colleges of Minnesota State — 11 of which are in the Twin Cities — are open-access institutions, meaning we serve all students regardless of financial means or academic preparedness. We support students’ achievement by offering robust developmental education if they need it in small classes of 25 or less.
The colleges of Minnesota State serve 84,000 low-income, Pell-eligible students throughout the state. Depending on income, after Pell grants and the Minnesota State Grant, tuition at Minnesota State colleges is reduced to as low as $402 for our neediest students. And, since 2006, even that small amount has been eliminated for those who attend Minneapolis Community Technical College, Century College or Saint Paul College through our “Power of YOU” program, which for more than a decade has targeted the same kind of student the new St. Thomas college hopes to serve. We cover the cost of tuition and fees through state and federal grants, as well as private scholarships.
The Power of YOU supports as many students as possible — 867 this year — based on student need and funds available for the program, including the advising and support services needed to help students succeed at college. By comparison, St. Thomas hopes to reduce its $15,000-a-year price tag to $1,000 per year for its neediest students.
Given the many demands in students’ lives — work, family, etc. — Minnesota State colleges allow students to flexibly design class schedules. They can take courses on a single campus, on multiple campuses, or online. And they can attend part time or full time, whatever helps piece it all together. At St. Thomas, however, students will be required to be full time and be part of an inflexible, prescribed course schedule.
Perhaps most perplexing about the new offering at St. Thomas is that completion of the two-year program does not guarantee admittance for these students to the University of St. Thomas — or any university. Minnesota State college students who wish to continue with their education (and graduate with an associate degree and a GPA of at least 2.0) are guaranteed admission to any of the seven Minnesota State universities, where tuition and fees are equally reasonable — an average of $775 a year for our most financially needy students. In addition, graduates from the colleges of Minnesota State transfer every year to private four-year colleges across the United States, including St. Thomas.
St. Thomas will offer only one associate of liberal arts degree, while the colleges of Minnesota State provide thousands of accredited, state-of-the-market career and vocational/technical education programs that prepare students for careers and jobs. These programs lead to associate of arts, associate of science and associate of applied science degrees in fields such as health sciences, business, construction, information technology, manufacturing, transportation and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). These programs enable our students to secure well-paying, fulfilling work and help narrow the talent gap and disparities gaps that Minnesota currently faces.
If there are other well-meaning donors considering how they can help others achieve their full potential, we hope they will visit their local Minnesota State community or technical college. Every day we’re delivering exceptional education to 180,000 fellow Minnesotans — more than half of whom are ages 18-24 — and helping them to build a better future for themselves, their families and the state. Indeed, at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and Saint Paul College, we have a combined 100 years of service helping students create pathways to technical or transfer degrees, which, in turn helps create the workforce Minnesota needs to compete globally.
Sharon Pierce is president of Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Rassoul Dastmozd is president of Saint Paul College. Both colleges are part of Minnesota State.