Posted: November 16, 2006

Contact: Doug Anderson,, 651-201-1426

A study of higher education needs along Interstate 35 south of the Twin Cities recommends renovating a substantial portion of South Central College's Faribault campus and establishing a permanent facility in Owatonna.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system commissioned the study to assess how to best meet current and future higher education needs along the south I-35 corridor that includes Rice, Steele, Dodge and Waseca counties. The system contracted with MGT of America, a private consulting firm, to conduct the study.

Currently, the consultants said, the region is well served by South Central College, which has campuses in Faribault and North Mankato, and Riverland Community College, which has campuses in Austin and Albert Lea and leases space for programs in the Owatonna College and University Center. Minnesota State University, Mankato also offers a limited number of four-year programs at the Owatonna facility and the Faribault campus.

"The colleges in the area have developed a reputation for meeting local training needs and providing a skilled workforce for local employers," the consultants said. "The employer survey indicates that the area's business and industry primarily rely on local access to education and training available at two-year colleges.

"The limited demand revealed in the study suggests that any expansion of programming in the area should be modest," the consultants said.

Ten-year projections indicate that the five occupations with the most anticipated growth in the four-county area are likely to be in sales, office support, production management, and food preparation and food service, fields that do not typically require a four-year college degree, the study found. As in other areas of the state, high school enrollment is expected to decline in the next decade or so.

The consultants concluded that upgrading South Central's Faribault campus to create a modern collegiate environment would be preferable to constructing new facilities. Such a renovation would cost an estimated $8 million to $9 million and would provide more instructional space, improved operating efficiencies and options for distance education alternatives. For another $3 million to $3.5 million, additional space could be constructed if it were needed, the consultants said. Constructing a new campus at a different location would cost an estimated $30 million to $40 million.

Developing a permanent site in Owatonna would cost an estimated $10 million. Riverland Community College's enrollment history at the Owatonna center has been significant and sustained, the consultants noted, adding, "Continued enrollment levels would signal an opportunity for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to establish a permanent presence in the community."

The consultants' findings will be reviewed over the next year by Chancellor James H. McCormick and other system officials and the Board of Trustees as they develop the system's capital budget request for the 2008 session.

South Central President Keith Stover said the consultant's report is "a first step in a long journey."

"The report provides a good starting point for discussion," he said. "Over the next several months we look forward to reviewing the report with our committees, our campuses, the Office of the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees."

Riverland President Terrence Leas said: "The consultants' recommendation would allow people in this area to have ready access to the higher education programs they need. At the same time, the college would be able to increase efficiencies, which are becoming increasingly important in our efforts to hold down tuition."

Despite the generally low-to-moderate demand for bachelor's degree and graduate programs in the area, the consultants said some pockets of need exist. Degree programs in health care, business management, finance and teacher education could be offered on an as-needed basis, they said.

Minnesota State University, Mankato should have the lead responsibility among the system's seven state universities for meeting these needs at Faribault or Owatonna, they added.

Besides analyzing population projections, secondary school enrollment, occupation projections and economic trends in the region, MGT conducted interviews with community leaders, employers and other members of the public. Surveys of employers and students also were conducted.

View complete needs assessment study (pdf)