James McCormick, chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, spoke with MPR's Morning Edition about the gubernatorial candidates' views on higher education funding. MNSCU has 32 state-supported technical and community colleges and universities across the state. McCormick, who has been chancellor since 2001, will retire next summer.
Cathy Wurzer: It sounds like MnSCU and the University of Minnesota will probably have less money from the state in the years to come. How will MnSCU manage that?
James McCormick: In the last two years, state support for the state colleges and universities has been cut by $153 million or 11 percent, but the interesting fact is at the same time our enrollment has increased by 10 percent. In losing this $150 million, we've been looking at everything. But we have a core value in our organization is we must not have deficits. So once we have been the strongest advocate we can be for the budget and of the Legislature and the governor get to decide, and when those decisions are made, we then live within the appropriation. The board has to give serious thought to what the tuition should be and then we balance and make the cuts. But this does mean some restructuring and some rethinking about how we deliver services.
Wurzer: How does that manifest itself?
McCormick: We've really cut administrative costs. At one time in history of the system, we had 45 presidents. We now have 32 as we consolidated operations, particularly in rural areas.
Wurzer: Because it appears that MnSCU and the U of M will probably have less money in the coming years because of the huge budget crisis that Minnesota faces, it is like the third rail of legislative politics to talk about closing MnSCU campuses, but really, will you have to look at that? MnSCU has 54 campuses.
McCormick: We've got that organized into 31 organizations, so that we have Minnesota West, for instance, would have five campuses and two centers under one president. So we've really consolidated, and we have one of the lowest cost administrative operations in the country. But I've been very committed on keeping these opportunities available across the state. When you're in Virginia, Minn., you have Mesabi Range College, but it's 100 miles to International Falls. So when you drive around the [Iron] Range's five colleges, it takes all day. So trying to have access for students to get started and services has been very important.
Wurzer: As you know, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has talked about reimagining higher education with iPhones and iPads. Does that really offer a decent educational experience?
McCormick: Yes, we've had good success. We have 75 or 80,000 students now online.
Wurzer : As you get ready to leave office, just how tough will the sledding get for higher education in the next few years.
McCormick: Well, I think across the country, it's difficult. There are a few states like North Dakota that have been blessed with great natural resources where it's a little different. For Minnesota to be globally competitive, we are going to have to have more college-educated people. There was a Georgetown University report that suggested that by 2018, we needed to have about 70 percent of our population with some post-secondary.
In order to be globally competitive and develop the workforce, we're going to have to educate even more students than we are now. America a few years ago was second to none, and now there are a dozen other countries that are ahead of us in terms of educating their people. I think to be a great world power it's going to be based on the intellectual capacity of our citizens. So I hope there'll be a recognition both nationally and the state level that we must invest in our people if we want America to be No. 1.
(Interview transcribed by MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.)