MnSCU Breaks New Ground in First Year of Merged System

Posted: July 31, 1996

Contact: Doug Anderson, doug.anderson@so.mnscu.edu, 651-201-1426

MnSCU, Minnesota's newly merged system of state universities, community colleges and technical colleges, is heading into its second year -- and looking back on a historic period of major change for public higher education in the state.

"We have broken ground as a new type of educational enterprise -- one that is learning centered, performance based and technology driven," said Chancellor Judith Eaton.

"MnSCU has had some early successes, and we are very proud of those efforts. However, we have a long way to go to become the cutting-edge, contemporary system we intend to be."

Eaton said the focus in MnSCU's second year will be different than the first.

"Our emphasis in the first year was on building a foundation of administrative accountability for the new system. We also worked very hard on our educational agenda, but clearly we needed to concentrate on providing structure and direction for this fledgling organization.

"We focused on important priorities such as defining the leadership role of the system office, reducing state mandates and MnSCU regulations, consolidating neighboring community and technical colleges, building an information system, establishing organizational values, designing a shared decision-making process and creating a strategic budgeting capacity."

Now, the system is prepared to move beyond this organizational agenda and to make major progress with its ambitious educational agenda, Eaton said.

"We are in a position to really focus on the reasons we were created," she said.

The system will build on existing efforts such as the Electronic Academy, a statewide initiative to expand student access through the use of the latest technology, and a strategic planning process to identify key directions and priorities for the system over the next five years.

In addition, Eaton said, the MnSCU leadership will pursue such initiatives as:

  • Offering a compelling vision for technical education in Minnesota, underscoring its critical importance to the state;
  • Placing major emphasis on student achievement;
  • Removing barriers for students to transfer among MnSCU colleges and universities; and
  • Reviewing tenure practices.

"We intend to emphasize results, seize the opportunities created by technology, become more efficient, improve our long-term financial management, provide students with expanded educational opportunities and prove that we are worthy of increased investment and support," Eaton said.

MnSCU's history dates back to 1991, when the Minnesota Legislature passed a law mandating the merger of the community colleges, technical colleges and state universities. The merger took effect on July 1, 1995.

The merger was born of controversy, and there were several attempts in the Legislature to scuttle it. But the new system has gained acceptance from its former detractors.

"I appreciate the tough decisions made by the MnSCU system leadership," said Rep. Tony Kinkel, chair of the Minnesota House Higher Education Finance Division. "I particularly applaud the decentralization of decision-making -- giving the campuses more autonomy -- and creating a new culture that embraces positive change."

Here is an at-a-glance review of MnSCU's first year:

Serving Students and the State

  • Awarded more than 30,000 degrees and diplomas.
  • Enrolled more than 151,500 students (fall 1995 headcount enrollment).
  • Created 31 new educational programs.
  • Created the Electronic Academy, a statewide electronic federation to deliver educational programs on-line, via interactive television and on computers; secured $4.5 million in initial funding from the Legislature. Now offer more than 300 courses via ITV.
  • Established the MnSCU Information Center to give prospective students, taxpayers and parents easier access to information about programs and services.

Implementing the New System

  • Hired a permanent chancellor, Judith Eaton, who began her duties on August 15, 1995.
  • Began a strategic planning process to identify key directions and priorities that the system will address in the next five years.
  • Completed the transition of the state's technical colleges from local jurisdiction to a state system.
  • Made significant progress toward blending the distinct cultures of the three former systems into a cohesive new organization.

Enhancing Efficiency and Productivity

  • Focused system management efforts by redefining the leadership role of the system office and reorganizing and downsizing its staff by 50 percent; the reorganization emphasizes the leadership and policy-making role of the system office, while shifting operational responsibilities to the college and university campuses.
  • Consolidated 24 neighboring technical and community college campuses into 11 institutions and created multi-campus governance models in northeastern and southwestern Minnesota; the changes are intended to improve delivery of educational services and reduce administrative costs.
  • Strengthened the role of college and university presidents by seeking and obtaining legislative relief from mandates and by decentralizing decision-making inside MnSCU.
  • Reached collective bargaining agreements with all but one employee bargaining unit.
  • Secured $86.4 million in capital improvement funding from the Legislature to preserve existing assets and to construct badly needed new facilities.

Improving Accountability and Performance

  • Revised and streamlined budget development and management to focus more on investments in quality and performance.
  • Took significant steps to implement new financial and information management systems.
  • Approved an expanded internal and external audit plan.
  • Initiated a review of all MnSCU educational programs with the goal of eliminating unnecessary duplication and ensuring that campuses meet the needs of students, employers and the state.
  • Began a series of quarterly educational retreats at which the Board of Trustees studies higher education issues.
  • Completed market research to provide benchmark information about MnSCU's performance and expectations among students, alumni, employers and Minnesota opinion leaders.

Designing a Collaborative Decision-making Process

  • Appointed seven new presidents for the colleges and universities.
  • Added seven new members to the MnSCU Board of Trustees, the 15-member board that provides leadership for the system. New members are Morrie Anderson, Mound; Kathleen Caffey, Loretto; Dennis Dotson, Mankato; Robert Erickson, Bloomington; William Smoley, Sartell; Denise Stephens, Stillwater; and Michael Vekich, Eden Prairie.
  • Reorganized and streamlined the system office staff.
  • Reorganized and redefined the role of the Presidential Advisory Committee, a group of eight college and university presidents who advise the chancellor and Board of Trustees.
  • Committed to increased communication and interaction between the system leadership and faculty and students.