Looking ahead, Chancellor Steven Rosenstone admits he’s a little worried about how to keep Minnesota’s 31 public colleges and state universities afloat. Enrollment has been dropping; costs are going up. And when it comes to tuition, he says, “we’ve clearly reached the limit on what students and families can be asked to absorb.”

So this fall, he’s creating a new task force to explore what he calls the “long-term financial sustainability” of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.

Rosenstone insists that he’s not thinking about closing or merging any of the system’s 54 campuses in 47 communities, which serve an estimated 430,000 students.

The charge, instead, is to come up with fresh ideas to ensure the system’s survival.

“It’s not about how to balance the budget this year; it’s balanced,” he said. But five or 10 years down the road? “That’s the puzzle.”

Despite an extra infusion of $100 million from the state Legislature this spring, MnSCU’s colleges and universities are under “enormous financial pressure,” according to an Aug. 31 report to the board of trustees. That “is putting innovation and excellence at risk.”

Rosenstone said he’s assembling a work group of students, faculty and staff to wrestle with some tough questions, including how to cut costs and increase revenue.

“The question is, what’s the next step?” he said. “I’d like to see people think creatively.”

One option, he said, might be to expand customized training programs for businesses. Another might be to “double down” on private fundraising.

“My strategy here was to ask the questions, not give them the answers,” he said. The group is still being assembled, and is expected to finish its report next June.

Jim Grabowska, head of the faculty union at the seven state universities, says he’s glad for the chance to plan ahead instead of simply reacting to the latest crisis. “It’s trying to be proactive,” he said. “I think they want to explore possibilities and see where they can grow.”