Recently, I caught myself yelling at the television. Not at the political ads bombarding us, but at Charlie Brown. There on Netflix was gullible Charlie, coaxed by Lucy to kick the football she was holding for him. “Don’t fall for it this time,” I cried as Charlie, deceived once again, fell flat on his back as she pulled the football away.
This situation is all too familiar to students at Minnesota State, who have been clamoring for reform at the state’s colleges to address affordability and the opportunity gap. They are told that change is just around the corner, only to see campus administrators raise fees on students already paying the fifth highest tuition and fees in the country for community colleges.
Or they hear campus leaders discuss their commitment to address the opportunity gap, only to see that those charged with leading these efforts lack the resources to really make a difference.
This fall, the Minnesota State system’s board of trustees, the governing body for its 37 public colleges and universities, has once again outlined a process to bring reform and innovation to the largest public higher education system in Minnesota.
This new initiative, called “Reimagining Higher Education,” will undoubtedly follow in the footsteps of previous reform initiatives — proposing many great ideas to improve higher education in Minnesota but failing to implement those ideas because systems of higher education are built to resist change.
This is the trajectory that every previous reform initiative has followed, such as “Charting the Future,” the reform plan under the previous chancellor, and the “Students First” initiative, the first reform vision after the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system was created in 1996.
The last two decades at Minnesota State have shown that quality and efficiency do not improve unless the Legislature and governor demand it through legislation. The impetus for the system’s creation was to simplify the transfer process fromtwo-year colleges to four-year universities. It was not until the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton forced them to develop a plan in 2015 that it was finally undertaken.
This fall, students will start to benefit from a clearer path to a bachelor’s degree that will save them time and money. While the Minnesota State system likes to take credit for this reform, it would not have happened without the push from the Legislature and the governor. It should not have taken over 20 years.
The same thing happened with reforming developmental education, the system that supports students who are deemed unprepared for college-level math or reading when they enroll at a college or university. For too long, too many students were being placed into these programs, which have low success rates and high student costs. Once again, the Legislature and governor intervened to pressure Minnesota State to develop a plan to fix this broken process. Now, fewer students are taking developmental education classes in Minnesota and completion is slowly improving.
If Minnesota is going to improve its higher education system, we will need the next governor of Minnesota to be a leader in moving Minnesota’s colleges and universities to take real action to address the opportunity gap, meet employers’ needs for high-skilled workers and make college more affordable.
Students are hungry for change; they want to see higher education become a priority once again. Students know that the jobs of tomorrow require that they get a college degree. It is a fact that whether a student is obtaining an education as a diesel mechanic or in a nursing program, those who obtain degrees earn more and spend more, are less dependent on government programs and pay more in taxes.
Come January, it will be time for Minnesota’s next governor to take that football from Lucy and run it into the end zone. We cannot afford to be flat on our back again and leave so many Minnesotans behind.
Frankie Becerra is a student at Century Community College and president of LeadMN, the statewide student association representing the 120,000 students attending Minnesota’s community and technical colleges.