The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system that Chancellor Steven Rosenstone says he will leave at the end of the 2016-17 academic year is a more collaborative and student-focused organization than the one he joined in 2011.
That’s progress, for which Rosenstone and the governing board that has backed him in the face of faculty cricitism deserve credit. Here’s hoping that by the time a new chancellor is in place next year, those critics will see the value in the changes Rosenstone helped engineer.
Rosenstone, 64, announced Friday that he intends to retire when his current contract expires in mid-2017. Despite a rash of faculty no-confidence votes in 2014, by all indications the chancellor will be leaving on his own terms and with the continued support of the governing board that hired him. At an October meeting, board members praised him for gains including improved inter-campus cooperation and increased diversity in hires.
A prime example of progress: Starting next year, students in four selected disciplines will find it much easier to transfer academic credits from two-year to four-year MnSCU schools. Further, a process has been established that promises to make such transfers routine in every discipline within a few years. That’s important, given that nearly half of recent MnSCU baccalaureate graduates attended more than one of the system’s institutions.
Difficulty in transferring credits has been a persistent complaint since MnSCU’s founding. The unwillingness of some MnSCU institutions to accept credits earned at another has impeded student progress toward degrees, added costs for both them and state taxpayers, and led some students to end their studies too soon. Two years ago, the Legislature directed MnSCU to correct the problem.
A breakthrough came when each of MnSCU’s institutions stopped seeking individually tailored transfer agreements with every other one. Instead, in a pilot project, representatives of four popular disciplines from a number of campuses collaborated to establish systemwide requirements for their majors. Meet those requirements at any campus, and the credits thus achieved are guaranteed to transfer to any other. In the case of business education, for example, 126 separate “articulation agreements” between community colleges and state universities are giving way to one.
The result stops short of setting a centrally determined MnSCU curriculum, Rosenstone emphasized. Campuses can still vary in how their faculty members teach the requirements. But for the first time, a multicampus faculty consensus will define what constitutes a major at a two-year college. That will not only ease transfers from two-year to four-year schools. It also will allow students to take classes at, say, St. Paul College on Mondays and Minneapolis Community and Technical College on Tuesdays with assurance that both will count toward their major.
The new Transfer Pathways scheme was designed by faculty-dominated panels. It was not decided in the chancellor’s office — perhaps to the surprise of critics who said Rosenstone’s 2013 strategic plan, Charting the Future, smacked of “Soviet-style centralization.” The chancellor has repeatedly said he aims to make multicampus collaboration the MnSCU norm for solving problems. “We can’t afford to be 31 ships passing in the night anymore,” he says.
In some ways, MnSCU has been a higher education system in name only for much of its 21-year history. Despite a Legislative mandate to combine, cleavages among the three former systems — state universities, community colleges and technical colleges — have persisted as 31 institutions and 54 campuses have guarded their autonomy.
To the extent that autonomy is adding needless cost and frustrating complexity for students in a state facing a workforce shortage, it must change — and Rosenstone has proved to be an able change agent.