What the downtown Maurices building says about UMD

Of Duluth (Alex Friedrich / MPR News)

Take a look at the Maurices building on Superior Street.

Sure, it’s the corporate headquarters for a retail fashion chain. But it’s also sign of where the University of Minnesota – Duluth may be going.

You may remember that when the company announced it was donating the building to UMD last month, Chancellor Lendley Black said it would probably house continuing education courses and certificate programs — probably for those folks working downtown.

Black (Courtesy of UMD)

In a recent conversation, Black told me the new building won’t be a significant expansion for the school, which already does continuing education classes.

But it does seem to reflect two things.

First is the campus’ effort to connect more with community.

Black told me:

“I don’t want to be located in Duluth. I want to be of Duluth. I want to be an integral part of Duluth. And this is a way for us to do that. I think it signals to the community that … we’re taking education to them.

Sometimes college campuses suffer from being foreign places for people who’ve never been to college or maybe haven’t been in a long time. They don’t always feel comfortable coming on campus in spite of the fact that we try to be welcoming and have them feel comfortable.”

Second, that very community may soon make up a larger percentage of the campus student body than it does now.

He said:

“Our core mission not going to change. … What is changing — and has already begun to change — are the demographics of the students we tend to attract.

Historically, we’ve been a very traditional campus. Most of our students come to us right out of high school.

But future opportunities are going to be more in the area of adult learners. Some of those will be transfer students. Some will be students who had a year or two of college many years ago. Or some of them may be people in their 30s or 40s who started families and who are just now focusing on their own education.

We also have people who switch careers. We’re seeing that more and more. We need to help people shift with the workforce.

If I had a crystal ball, I’d think that within five, certainly within 10 years, our student body will look different — older, more diverse. And I think you’ll see more of this stopping and starting out of college — which we’re already starting to see quite a bit of.

So I think in many ways this downtown building is right in the sweet spot of addressing some of those needs.”