NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
ERIC Number: ED534857
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Mar
Pages: 64
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
At a Crossroads: A Report Card on Public Higher Education in Minnesota
Diaz, Sandra; Lakemacher, Heather; Mitchell, Charles
American Council of Trustees and Alumni
In 2011, the chief executives of the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges & Universities systems will leave their positions, along with the governor of the state. The state will continue to face fiscal challenges, and the campuses will have to figure out how to do more with less. As "Tribune" columnist Lori Sturdevant recently observed, this will require a "paradigm shift." In such times, citizens and policymakers can benefit from clear information on what their colleges and universities are doing well, and what they are doing not so well. That is why this report card delves into Minnesota's two public university systems. The authors focus on what students are learning (the curriculum), whether the marketplace of ideas is vibrant (intellectual diversity), how the universities are run (governance), and what a college education costs (affordability). In each case, they assess Minnesota institutions according to best practices at the national level, awarding a Passing or Failing grade. Are students learning the things they need to know? Is there a healthy exchange of ideas? Are trustees upholding the public trust? Are taxpayers getting a good value for their money? These are the kinds of questions to which the people of Minnesota deserve answers. It is the goal of this report card to provide answers and to help Minnesota--a state rightly known for its passion for education--be a national standard bearer for excellence, accountability, and efficiency in higher education. The first section focuses on general education--those courses, usually completed within the first two years of a bachelor's degree program, that ensure a common intellectual background as well as college-level skills critical to workforce participation. While most Minnesota institutions require their students to take courses in composition and college-level math and science, there are weaknesses in other crucial areas. Most do not require broad coursework in literature, U.S. history or government, or economics. Instead, students can satisfy requirements in "Social Science," "Historical Perspectives," or "Ethical and Civic Responsibility" with courses such as "The Rural World" and "Visual Journalism." These requirements should be tightened so that they clearly point students to essential knowledge. In the second section, the authors focus on intellectual diversity, a value that lies at the very heart of the educational enterprise. In the simplest terms, intellectual diversity means the free exchange of ideas. And according to a scientific survey of students they commissioned, it is in trouble in Minnesota. Students unambiguously report violations of professional standards--including perceived pressure to agree with professors' views in order to get a good grade--and exhibit an unsettling lack of awareness of their rights and how to ensure those rights are respected. Many institutions across the country have taken responsible action in recent years to guarantee intellectual pluralism. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and St. Cloud State University, the two campuses the authors surveyed, should join them. The third section turns to governance and actions by the University of Minnesota Board of Regents and the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities Board of Trustees. These board members are responsible for the academic and financial well-being of the institutions they oversee and for safeguarding the public interest. Their examination of board minutes and other publicly available materials suggests that both boards function in a generally transparent manner, and both are addressing issues that bear directly on student success. The MnSCU board deserves particular note for its active engagement in setting institutional priorities and for putting a premium on greater system-wide transparency and accountability. But as this report outlines, Minnesota schools are faced with rising costs, low graduation rates, and curricular gaps that make real and proactive engagement imperative. Finally, the authors take a look at cost and effectiveness. This is an area of real concern. On average, increases in tuition and fees at the institutions the authors assessed outstripped inflation by nearly 20 percent between 2003 and 2008, eating up dramatically more of the average family's income. They also found increases in administrative spending of over 30 percent on five campuses between 2003 and 2007. Meanwhile, on no campus did they find even 64 percent of students receiving a degree in six years--suggesting that not only are costs going up, but many students are paying tuition for more than the expected four years. Skyrocketing college costs, of course, are not a problem unique to Minnesota, but they are one it must address. It is hoped that Minnesota's leaders--including the governor, the state legislature, and the regents and trustees they appoint--will use this report card to those important ends. Appended are: (1) Selection Criteria for Core Courses; and (2) Student Survey Methodology. (Contains 34 footnotes.) [This paper was created with the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.]
American Council of Trustees and Alumni. 1726 M Street NW Suite 802, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 888-258-6648; Tel: 202-467-6787; Fax: 202-467-6784; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: Policymakers
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: American Council of Trustees and Alumni
Identifiers - Location: Minnesota