New Program Hopes to Change the Face of Higher Education in the Twin Cities

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Here’s a grim fact about higher education in the Twin Cities area: less than five percent of minority students graduate from college by age 25. A new program, dubbed “The Power of U,” hopes to do something about that.

The two-year free tuition program is available to students who live and graduate from Minneapolis or St. Paul high schools recently, as long as the student takes the placement test, submits federal financial aid application and maintains fulltime status (12 credit hours per semester.)

“This is a bold idea,” says Wilson Bradshaw, the president of Metrostate University in St. Paul, who co-founded the program with his friend and Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) president Phil Davis.

“We didn’t ask who can afford it, we asked who can attend it,” said Bradshaw, referring to college, “we hope to refine the program overtime to better suit the needs of students.”

MCTC and St. Paul College are the only two colleges currently enrolling students under the program. Metrostate University is expected to join in the fall of 2007. Program engineers say they hope to model the program for other colleges in the state.

With six million dollars in private donations in the bank, and more in the pipeline, program administrators hope to change the face of higher education in the Twin Cities markedly over the next five years.

“We hope to produce high skilled workforce for this market,” says Walter Novillo who coordinates the program for MCTC, “That’s why the business community came out strongly to support this program.”

Among others, 3M, General Mills and Minneapolis Foundation have all contributed to the program.

The total number of students in the program, which accepted its’ first students this fall, is umpteen. Novillo says MCTC exceeded the number of projected students by 50 percent. Currently, there are about 300 students in the program at MCTC alone.

“Our goal is to educate as many students as we can,” he says.

Already, MCTC and Metrostate University are experiencing an influx of low income immigrant students, mostly from East Africa. In fact, they claim to be the most diverse college and university in the state, respectively.

“I would like to see [the Power of U] replicated statewide. We’re a good state, but we can be a better state with an educated workforce,” says Bradshaw, president of Metrostate University.

Asked of his thoughts on governor Pawlenty’s free tuition plan, dubbed ACHIEVE, which rewards top 25 percent of high school grads with two years of free tuition, Bradshaw said though it’s a plausible idea, “it doesn’t go the whole runway.”

Students in the top latter, he argues, are already in school, likely to be eligible for merit-based scholarships and grants, likely to hail from middleclass families and are likely to graduate on time.

“Our program, on the other hand, is designed to make college possible for kids who would otherwise not go to college,” he said.

College dropouts among minority students, he says, is whopping and needs to be repaired.

Ali Mohamed, 23, a native of Somalia, who dropped out of college last year because he couldn’t afford the skyrocketing tuition, is encouraged by the program. He currently works fulltime to support his family of 12 in Somalia.

“I never thought that I’d be able to go back to college,” he said, poring over a college placement test for MCTC “but now, I might become eligible for this program and attain my dream.”

Mohamed says he always believed that his success hinges on college education, but mounting student loan cut short of his lifelong dream. If he graduates from college, he’ll be the first in his family to gain a four-year degree.

Bradshaw, Metrostate University president, says he understands that the program is not the whole answer to trimming dropout rate among minority students.

“But it’s a critical part of the answer.” he said.

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