MnSCU study: No Southwest – Minnesota West alignment needed — yet

Needs to adjust to a declining population

You may remember when the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system commissioned a study last fall to see how Southwest Minnesota State University and Minnesota West Community and Technical College could better work together.

Employers in the region have said it’s hard to find trained workers, leading some to wonder what needs to change in the curriculum. Meanwhile, MnSCU has left open the possibility of consolidation and administrative alignment, and employees at Minnesota West have reportedly felt a little nervous about its future. And Southwest Minnesota State recently got an interim president after the retirement of David Danahar.

The study came out last week while I was gone, and here’s an interesting note, as mentioned by MnSCU officials:

The consultants stopped short of recommending that the two institutions be aligned under one president as has happened elsewhere in the system but noted that an alignment of the college and university may be appropriate at a later date.

Here’s MnSCU’s summary of the report in its news release, which contains a link to the original report:

Study recommends increased collaboration to better serve higher education needs in southwest Minnesota

Public meeting set for July 8 to discuss next steps

Southwest Minnesota State University and Minnesota West Community and Technical College should collaborate on offering more applied academic programs to help attract and retain a skilled and educated workforce in the 19-county region, according to a study released Friday by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

The study was conducted by MGT of America, a higher education consulting firm, at the request of Chancellor James H. McCormick.  The study also recommended that the university:

● Expand baccalaureate programs beyond the main campus in Marshall to more locations in the region and gradually rebalance the curriculum mix

● Strengthen participation and partnerships in economic development initiatives, cultural and civic events, and encourage collaboration in specialty areas of research by providing technical expertise

● Share operational and support functions with Minnesota West Community and Technical College, which has campuses in Jackson, Worthington, Pipestone, Canby and Granite Falls, and other system institutions.

The consultants noted, “Employers and community leaders are passionately supportive of the higher education entity in their respective communities and appreciate the critical role each campus plays in the economic and educational well-being of their locale.”

The consultants also said that Southwest Minnesota State University has established a solid foundation for expanding programs in such areas as the agriculture, food sciences, environmental sciences, health sciences, hard sciences and business management. Programs also could be developed in such areas as wind energy and manufacturing. A “rebalancing” of the curriculum mix over time is a reasonable and practical approach that establishes or sustains community and business connections, the consultants noted.

The study was prompted by changing demographics and economics in the region; the decision by the university’s president, David Danahar, to retire June 30; and the need for improved alignment between the university and Minnesota West Community and Technical College. Since then, Ronald Wood was appointed the university’s interim president effective today.

“President Danahar and his leadership team have accomplished a lot and set the stage for the next president to focus on continued improvement and growth,” McCormick said.  “Changing conditions in this geographic area, as well as elsewhere in the state, will require repositioning and rethinking program offerings.”

A public meeting to discuss next steps will be held at 11 a.m. July 8 in Room 202 of Charter Hall at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

The consultants stopped short of recommending that the two institutions be aligned under one president as has happened elsewhere in the system but noted that an alignment of the college and university may be appropriate at a later date.

In doing the study, the consultants analyzed demographic and economic data about the area; held focus groups on each campus; conducted in-person and telephone interviews; and did online surveys of businesses and current students. The university and college serve a 19-county area that is largely rural in nature, sparsely populated with only a few cities of significant size. The region also faces a declining and aging population.

For a summary of the report and the full report, click here.