Since Harriet Bishop came from Vermont in 1847 to establish Minnesota’s first common school, Minnesota’s respect for education and its commitment to educating immigrants has been one of the state’s distinguishing traits. The language has changed somewhat since Harriet Bishop’s day. The focus has shifted to a broader swath of underrepresented students, including first-generation college students, low-income students and students of color, but the state’s commitment to educating all Minnesota students hasn’t wavered.
The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system has made recruitment of underrepresented students a priority for several years, and their efforts have helped generate a system-wide 17.9 percent increase in enrollment of students from underrepresented groups. The highest percentage increases in the MnSCU system are in the community and technical colleges, which are less expensive than the four-year colleges and universities.
The cost factor is important. It seems likely that budget deficits will continue to plague the state for a few years to come, and when cuts need to be made it seems logical to cut from places that have the power to raise their own revenue. Universities can often cushion a budget shortfall by raising tuition, but in so doing they shift the burden to the backs of their students (the recent decision of the Regents of the University of California system to raise tuition 32 percent in the coming year is a rather salient example).
As the cost of higher education increases, recruiting and retaining these underrepresented students is likely to become more difficult for MnSCU. It’s not enough to just get these students in to college. In order to meet Minnesota’s future workforce demands, these students need to earn their post-secondary degrees and become the skilled workers that with keep our state economically competitive. It would be a shame to see MnSCU’s effort to diversify Minnesota’s student population go to waste because of a decline in investment in higher education.