What MnSCU chancellor candidate William Sederburg had to say


Because of the way the morning schedule was arranged, I had the chance to see only one interview with MnSCU chancellor candidate William Sederburg, Utah’s commissioner of higher education.

(I was able to see two of Steven Rosenstone’s.)

Here are what I thought were the interesting snippets. Quotes are edited and not verbatim:

On losing out to James McCormick for the MnSCU chancellorship 10 years ago:

“By the end, I thought I’d have appointed James McCormick instead of me. … I wasn’t ready for this 10 years ago like I am today. The experience base is quite different.”

On his tenure at Ferris State University in Michigan, which he says he turned around:

We had unions without contracts, a 30 percent enrollment drop. But nine years later, it has a $9 million surplus, and enrollment at an all-time high.

On potential priorities:

1) Educational transformation. We need a more seamless system instead of lot of silos. We need a more effective P-20 system, dual enrollment, more early-college high schools, better advising and articulation. We need an institutional network instead of a top-down system. We need to find ways to find help (for colleges) in their immediate communities. The central office should be a central node – for advocacy, program collaboration and credit transfers.

2) Technology. Nowadays people “pull” what they need online — instead of institutions “pushing” products. Minnesota has chance to be leader in using online technology effectively.

3) Building stronger ties to business and the economy. The Minnesota economy depends on the success of MnSCU.  If 70 percent of students are to get a postsecondary education, MnSCU will be a main provider. It’s like an umbrella: The business community needs to have education rally around it, and educational institutions can feed into it. This ‘umbrella theme’ is not here.

3) Increasing diversity. As I looked at the data here, Minnesota has done a great job of narrowing the achievement gap of minorities. But it needs to do a lot more.

On winning support:

The people most supportive of tuition increases in Utah have been students, which is surprising. I think it’s because they want expanded opportunities and services.

On winning the support of the business community:

In Utah it was the chamber of commerce that set the agenda, more so than the governor. In Utah you can drive on good roads because of the chamber. So we asked the chamber, “How can we make higher education a priority for you?” We teamed up, and got the state support we needed for (a goal of ensuring that 66 percent of Utah’s workforce has a trade certificate or college degree by 2020).

On diversity:

At Ferris State, we were able to recruit 15 percent African-Americans, even though we were out in the middle of nowhere. At Utah Valley (State College, now University), we doubled the number of Hispanics from 700 too 1,400 in three years through family connections, church connections, and breaking down their concerns of coming to campus. But you do it far better than Utah does.

On administrator performance bonuses:

I like the specific measurements, and I find bonuses tied to that appropriate.

On changing the message higher-ed sends to kids:

“The emphasis needs to be degree completion, not just getting to campus. A faculty member once made this observation: “All the language showed that everyone wanted to go to college, but there was no language about what students wanted to get out of college — or what they wanted to do with it afterward.”

On remedial education:

One statistic I saw was that only 7 percent who take traditional remedial classes end up completing a degree. … There is a lot of churn in the remedial-education world. …  The idea needs to be redone. We need to test early on, and use the senior year (in high school) to catch up. And there are some great remedial courses.

On fund-raising:

We’ve done more fundraising at individual (colleges) because the Utah commission has no foundation. It’s a tough road, because people don’t have that emotional connection to a system. They have it to a college. My wife and I, for example, give money to MSU Mankato (my alma mater) and not to the system. We are just are behind the curve in our ability to approach the emotional level. So the question is: How do you become a value-added element (in people’s perceptions)?

A state foundation can be of huge value— in coordinating giving and arranging corporate giving. It can make sense, for example, to have welding companies contribute to the system instead of 20 individual  campuses.

In Michigan, we said, “We’re in the economic development business.” If you look at Ann Arbor, East Lansing, where the universities are, you see some economic progress. We somehow need to tie into that.

On his weakness:

I have jumped to judgment too quickly without knowing all nuances. (Sederburg spoke of a college employee once arrested on charges of embezzlement. As head of the college, Sederburg listened to public safety officials and acted aggressively, he said, but later learned someone had misled him in a few accounts. The employee ended up committing suicide in his garage. Sederburg said he wishes he’d not let events accelerate as they did, but declined to elaborate.)

On explaining rising tuition and lower state support to the public:

We need to get the community to think of higher education as a community thing. We haven’t succeeded selling higher education as a common good for society as a whole. But the legislature may be much more likely to rally around the common value of higher education than 30 years ago.