What the Capitol thinks Minnesota ed priorities are

While flipping through the higher education budget again, I was reminded of an interesting little tidbit on the legislature’s “education priorities” for both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system:


Education Priorities

7.9 The Board of Trustees, in fulfilling the

7.10 requirements of Minnesota Statutes, section

7.11 136F.06, by making reductions, approving

7.12 programs of study, establishing requirements

7.13 for completion of programs, and approving

7.14 course offerings and requirements for

7.15 credentials, must place the highest priority on

7.16 meeting the needs of Minnesota employers

7.17 for a skilled workforce. The board must

7.18 focus on the efficient delivery of higher

7.19 education, eliminate duplication throughout

7.20 the system, and streamline the operation

7.21 of the system to provide an education that

7.22 prepares students for the workforce needs of

7.23 Minnesota.

The U of M section had the same basic language.

Of course, it’s minor, mostly symbolic language to give MnSCU and the University of Minnesota direction on cuts and spending.

But it’s a pretty narrowly targeted priority. And it does seem to echo national arguments that liberal arts and humanities have lost their use, that we need more vocational training, and that perhaps (as was discussed right here on MPR) colleges and universities might not be adequately preparing students for the job market.

Compare it to the state statute that presents a more well-rounded set of higher-ed objectives, such as “learning in a broad range of arts and sciences,” the promotion of “democratic values,” “appreciation of a free and diverse society,” and so on.

What exactly is the legislature aiming for here?

Mike Valleau, the House’s higher-education committee administrator, said the language apparently came out of a conversation among Republican members of the House committee.

They wanted to encourage U of M regents and MnSCU trustees, when the time came for them to make funding decisions, not to cut programs that were highly valued on the job market, he said. Instead, they were to consider cutting those that weren’t as marketable.

House staff then put together the passage above “that is fairly broad, but encourages them to focus on prioritizing the needs of Minnesota employers,” Valleau said. “How the Board of Regents or MnSCU trustees interpret that is up to them.”

The language may have been a reflection of new priorities to cope with unemployment and the current economic slump. But the chairman of the House committee, Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls), said the passage reflects how he sees higher ed overall:

“I’d say that it’s my general view, though (meeting the needs of Minnesota employers) is more critical (now) because we need to fire up the economy. That’s that’s how I view education, especially with technical schools. That’s their primary role.”

I’m curious what trustees and regents think.

  • There is no question that the trend nationally is to view higher education as a tool to spur economic growth. In fact, this debate is overwhelming the traditional objective to ensure access and create equity.  While these two concepts are not mutually exclusive, it could translate into changes in policy in Washington.  First and foremost, the current debt ceiling debate could result in significant cuts to Pell grants, TRIO and other opportunity/access programs, while preserving programs that are more aligned with workforce training.  The higher education as economic growth tool raises the question about how to best invest very limited public dollars for higher education.

    • Anonymous

      One could ask whether it’s the state’s job to influence what’s being taught at its colleges and universities. Adding economy-fueling programs is one thing. Taking away other opportunities is another. Some have argued that students should have a range of opportunities, then study them and make the degree choice that fits their aspirations. Others chime in that the free market should sort it out.

      • mej1us

        Non scholae sed vitae.