If you haven’t had time to listen to the audio of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system Chancellor-Elect Steven Rosenstone chatting with host Phil Picardi on MPR’s Morning Edition, here’s a transcript. I’ve edited it a little for length and clarity.
It’s pretty different leading MnSCU, which has a less selective admissions policy and is more focused on vocational training. Why do you want this job?
I think it’s a huge opportunity to continue to contribute to the state of Minnesota and ensure that every single student in our state has access to an excellent education. … It’s a challenging time for higher education, but also a time when higher education is more important to Minnesota’s vitality than anytime in its history. And if I can contribute to moving that agenda forward, to contribute to that vitality of the state, that’s a great opportunity.
MnSCU has been a target for state budget cuts in recent years, and last week the Republican-led house voted for further reductions. What will happen if those cuts are signed into law?
Well, fortunately that’s a question that current Chancellor (James) McCormick is going to have to answer. From my sense of things, from my study of the system over the last several months, the cuts have already been very, very deep. … In real dollars, the amount of resources that the state is providing per student in the MnSCU system is 40 percent lower than it was a decade ago. … I fear that the state may be eating its seed corn here by not adequately investing in its future.
MnSCU has raised tuition by 4.5 percent this year. What kind of tuition hikes should students brace for in the future?
Again, that’s something that the chancellor is responsible for, and I know those discussions are ongoing with the board. In my judgment, tuition increases are an approach of last resort. The state has to remain a partner in supporting higher education in this state. Otherwise, the burden will fall on the students. Administrators and faculty also need to be part of the solution, and I will continue to work extremely hard to find new ways to control costs … and to do everything I can to keep tuition increases to a minimum.
Do you foresee any closing of campuses or consolidation of programs?
Too early to get that specific. I’m still about 70 days into my learning mode here. … (But) I don’t come in with any preconceived notions of anything.
Now there has been controversy in the past about bonuses for MnSCU executives, including a $40,000 bonus for Chancellor McCormick last year. With budgets getting squeezed, should those types of perks be eliminated?
Well, I don’t believe in bonuses, and that’s not something that’s been discussed with the board chair. I do believe in holding people responsible for their performance, and there has been some discussion about some of my compensation being held back until I demonstrate that indeed I have performed up to a certain standard. … But just bonuses per se – that doesn’t make sense, of course.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty says the future of higher ed is going to increasingly be online. He likes to talk about “iCollege,” where students would download a course to their smartphone instead of going to a brick-and-mortar classroom. Is he right? Is that the future of higher ed?
Well, yes and no. It’s a little more complicated than that, and there’s also now work that’s demonstrated that unless you provide a connection of students to each other, to faculty, to an environment of learning, that they’re less likely than students at the more traditional institutions to actually continue in the progress towards a (certificate or) degree. … There’s no doubt that e-education, as it’s sometimes called, will play a greater role in the way in which we educate students in the future. But we need to make sure that we’re doing two things: 1) that the quality is very high … and 2) that we’re demonstrating that we can do it in a way that is far more cost-effective that what many of the for-profit institutions are currently charging.
Yesterday when MnSCU announced that they were going to offer you the job, the words “change” and “taking chances” came up. Are you a person who’s going to make lots of changes and take chances with MnSCU?
I think history is probably the best predictor of the future. And I think if you look at the work that I did at the (University of Minnesota) College of Liberal Arts in collaboration with President (Mark) Yudof and President (Robert) Bruininks and a really remarkable faculty and staff in the college, I think together we worked to transform the educational experience that students had at the University, to improve the quality of our courses, to change the curriculum, to bring technology into the classroom, to blast our facilities into the 21st Century, and to dramatically increase retention and graduation rates.
Those are the kinds of changes I hope to bring to what is already a very, very good system. … This should be the best education that any student in the state of Minnesota can find. It’ll be in the colleges and universities of the MnSCU system. I’m not afraid to take some chances. I’m not afraid to move in directions that might be a little untraditional. I’m not a huge risk-taker, but I’m not afraid to take some chances and innovate and do things a little differently. And if they don’t work, we regroup and try it again. But just “business as usual” just isn’t going to get us where we need to go these days, particularly given the changing demands of the workforce, the new ways in which we need to be preparing students and, of course, given the financial constraints that we’re all confronting.