What the candidates say about higher ed

MPR/Jeffrey Thompson

Relatively quiet on higher education

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

You might think that with budget cuts and layoffs shrinking state universities, and with impending leadership changes influencing how they'll do business, gubernatorial candidates would be speaking out about how to handle it all.


Their voters are pressing them to engage in the education battles at the lower levels, leaving colleges and trade schools on the sidelines.

“The focus has been on K-12,” said David Schultz, a Hamline University business professor who also teaches political science. Politically, higher education “is a niche issue.”

Candidates can gloss over higher education for several reasons. A lot of politicians may think it’s merely the concern of those between 18 and 22. That group doesn’t vote in great numbers, and their voting parents are no longer as engaged with their children’s education.

But that may change, because the fastest-growing market for higher education is that of nontraditional and older students – who eye every penny and go to the voting booth.

Schultz said these are the issues that candidates should be speaking out on:

  • Future university leaders. With University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks leaving next June, and Chancellor James McCormick of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities expected to step down next August, “I would expect (candidates) to be talking about who’d they like to see” as replacements, Schultz said. He wouldn’t expect specific names, but “a sense of what they’d like to see” in the next leaders.

  • The university-business connection. “This is a natural opportunity for them to be discussing how they see higher education as it relates to business and economic development," Schultz said. "But we’re not seeing them talking about it.”

  • Tuition. It has gone up dramatically, and Schultz said, “It has got to be on the minds of students and the parents who are sending them off to college. I’d have thought somewhere they’d be saying something about tuition, especially tuition at public institutions.”

  • The “green economy.” DFL candidates Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza have discussed their desire to create a “green economy” based on the environmental industry, Schultz said, “but what’s missing is how we’re going to train those workers. Are they talking about putting money into four-year or community colleges?"

For now, I'll take a look below at what the candidates are saying on their Web sites. Expect a fair share of platitudes – and not a lot of specifics. Schultz said one could argue that's OK, because details and budget numbers would be negotiated with the Legislature anyway.

MPR/Tim Nelson

IP's Hahn and Horner

“What candidates probably need to do is have the vision of where they want to take the state,” he said, “including how higher education is an integral part ... and how to use it as way to give people more opportunity, and to find a way to make it more affordable.”

Later they need to press for details to see how realistic the candidates are, he said.

Here's a rundown of what the candidates have on their sites. I've written a condensed version, but you can read the original text in gray.


Mark Dayton (B.A., psychology, Yale University)

Curb tuition increases.

I will work to cut back tuition increases at our state colleges and universities, so that students and their parents can afford Minnesota educations; and put a stop to our “youth brain drain” to other states.

Matt Entenza (B.A., environmental studies, Macalester College; J.D., University of Minnesota)

Reduce tuition while giving more support to community colleges, technical and vocational programs.

While we confront immediate budget challenges, we need to commit to making sure that as soon as possible we can begin reducing college tuition at our public universities and bringing dreams back within reach.  We also need to recognize and support a healthy diversity of higher education options, including community colleges and a broad range of technical and vocational programs.

Prepare high school students for careers in clean-energy industries by building partnerships between high schools, community and technical colleges, and industry.

While the new clean energy economy will create an explosion of job opportunities around the world, many of those jobs will only go to areas with a prepared and productive workforce, with the technical skills to help emerging businesses thrive.  We need to ensure that high schools and guidance counselors build and maintain relationships with local community and technical colleges, to ensure that they are preparing students to succeed – and contribute to their communities – in the careers of the 21st Century.

Example:  East Central Minnesota Workforce Partnership. The East Central Minnesota Workforce Partnership is a coalition of business and industry leaders, administrators from local high schools and community colleges, and officials from local public agencies, working together to cultivate a qualified, dynamic workforce in East Central Minnesota.  Similar efforts to align education and industry can position our state to take full advantage of opportunities in the clean energy economy.

Give financial assistance to military veterans and those in public service.

As budget conditions improve, we need to provide those students with additional financial aid, to provide a significant reward for their efforts, and to give them the tools to expand the ways in which they contribute to our communities.

Support programs that bring University of Minnesota education to the community – such as the Extension service.

The advantages of having a world-class University extend well beyond the lives of college students.  One example of the benefits that flow from our public universities is the University of Minnesota Extension, which is designed to use the resources of the University to solve community problems.  As we deal with difficult budget choices, we need to work to ensure that effective efforts to push the value of the University beyond libraries and classrooms are given the support they need to flourish.

Example:  The Horizons Program. Over the last several years, the University of Minnesota Extension has worked with Northwest Area Foundation on the Horizons program, designed to help rural communities build social capital and pursue prosperity.  The 18-month program has involved 34 communities in Minnesota with populations of less than 5,000 and poverty rates greater than 10%, and led to numerous successful community development projects.

Support community college classes for high-schoolers, such as through distance learning.

Shrinking funding from the Capitol has forced many schools to cut advanced classes that prepare our students for higher education.  We can use technology to help fill the gap until these programs have been restored.  For example, some school districts have eliminated language education, forcing any of their graduates enrolling at the University of Minnesota to enter as remedial students.  While the long-term solution to this problem is to grow our economy, in the short-term we can support efforts by schools to provide students with post-secondary opportunities at local community colleges, as well as distance-learning options that connect students with teachers in off-site locations.  We also need to ensure that all our students and educators have broadband internet access, to connect with the wealth of information and educational resources available across the world.

Example: East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC). ECMECC is a joint effort of 13 schools and a technical college in East Central Minnesota, using two-way video technology to expand the educational options for the region’s students and community members.  In short, for schools that may only have 1 or 2 students interested in taking college calculus, it may be difficult to justify devoting resources to a calculus course, especially as the school faces difficult budget choices.  But using two-way video to connect those 1 or 2 students with 12 or 13 other students scattered throughout the region, along with a teacher, can make a calculus class feasible.

Align K-12 and higher education by:

  • merging the state Department of Education and the Office of Higher Education;

  • conducting a major campaign to emphasize the need for every student to receive education after high school;

  • involving more school staff in counseling to help lower the ratio of students to counselors;

  • making the application to a postsecondary school a requirement for a high school diploma.

The next governor should extend and deepen efforts to align our educational systems and launch new ones such as:

* Merging the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education into a single agency, to better facilitate the creation of a seamless P-20 educational system.  This change will both save money and improve educational outcomes.

* Conducting a major public outreach campaign to explain and emphasize the need for all students to prepare for and complete postsecondary education.

* Supporting the dissemination of junior and senior high guidance programs that engage all staff in schools in preparing students for higher education, helping to address Minnesota’s extremely high student-to-counselor ratios.

* Requiring every Minnesota student to apply to at least one accredited postsecondary institution to earn a high school diploma.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher (B.A., political science, Gustavus Adolphus; M.P.A, Harvard)

  • Make higher education more affordable and accessible, including at community and technical colleges.

  • Increase efficiency and support at community and technical colleges.

  • Expand financial help programs such as the U of M’s Middle Income Scholarship.

  • Support programs – such as Power of You and Teachers of Diverse Backgrounds – to help lower-income and minority students attend college.

  • Boost technology transfer opportunities to boost the money-making opportunities for research.

  • Advertised achievements: Curbing tuition increases, Middle Income Scholarship, supported programs to make college more accessible -- Power of You and Teachers of Diverse Backgrounds; helped pass legislation to aid military veterans continue their education and professional development.

Margaret believes education should be a lifelong learning process, and that starts by making higher education more affordable and accessible. Our community and technical colleges are valuable assets to our education system, and we must find ways to eliminate barriers that prevent Minnesotans from accessing two-year degree programs.

Under Margaret’s leadership, the legislature has taken dramatic steps to stem double-digit tuition increases at higher education institutes statewide.  But she knows this work must not end.  An Anderson Kelliher Administration will work with our community and technical colleges to identify ways to become more efficient without sacrificing the quality of education, and provide administrators the tools and support to become successful.

Margaret will make two and four-year colleges and universities more accessible for dedicated, hardworking students.  In the legislature, she worked to help make college more affordable for Minnesota students by creating a new Middle Income Scholarship at the University of Minnesota, and as governor will look for ways to expand these opportunities as funds become available.  She also supported innovative programs, like the Power of You pilot program and Teachers of Diverse Backgrounds to help students of diverse backgrounds attend college, and will continue to do so as governor.

Our colleges and universities are economic incubators and are on the cutting-edge of innovative research that has the potential to bring thousands of jobs to Minnesota through commercialization of products and services.   As governor, I will seek new ways to boost technology transfer opportunities.

… Under her leadership, the House passed legislation to help returning military members readjust to civilian life and to continue their education and professional development.

Independence Party

Tom Horner (B.A., University of St. Thomas)

No mention of higher education on his issues platform.

Rob Hahn (B.A., University of Notre Dame)

Create government-led partnerships between higher education institutions and businesses that would allow students to get on-the-job preparation, earn credits and help pay for tuition costs while in school. In exchange for hiring students as interns, paying part of their tuition and giving them jobs after graduation, businesses would receive reduction or elimination of their corporate income tax.

My PIE proposal creates a way for students to essentially earn tuition credit by working part-time jobs that relate to their curriculum with participating businesses while attending school," Hahn said. "They also will have the opportunity to work for a participating business after graduation and have their loans paid off in-full or at least in-part. The businesses that participate will receive a reduction in, if not a complete elimination of, their corporate income tax. Everybody wins.

How It Works

Schools within the MnSCU and University of Minnesota system forge relationships with local businesses. Local businesses agree to "hire" current students for expanded internships. Students earn academic credits, while the businesses pay a portion of the tuition while the students are "employed." Participating businesses also commit to hire a certain number of graduates for a two-year period, during which the business pays a nominal wage but also pays off most, if not, all outstanding student loans.

Who Is Eligible

Minnesota residents who attend a Minnesota 2- or 4-year school in the MnSCU or University of Minnesota system (this program could be expanded to included other schools, including private) and Minnesota residents who have graduated from those schools within the past five years.


Students receive some tuition assistance while attending school and get more on-the-job training. They also have the opportunity to have their student loans paid off during the two years after graduation.  Businesses receive a reduction and possibly a complete elimination in their corporate income tax subject to participation formulas (this is tied into Rob Hahn's "Six Billion Dollar Man" budget proposal, and corporate tax revenue lost from PIE has already been factored into budget).  Corporations will receive a reduction in the income tax rate that's applied to business income. Participating businesses get to train future full-time employees and have their pick of the best and brightest.

MNSCU and University of Minnesota system schools have the opportunity to become more attractive to students based on the partnerships they form with local businesses, and funding will be tied into a formula based on the number of partnerships each school establishes.

PIE Guidelines:

The governor will be actively involved assisting schools establish partnerships with local businesses.

Corporate income cuts will be based on a formula that takes into account a company's revenue and percentage of that revenue spent per student toward tuition/student loan payments and wages.

Total elimination of corporate income tax would occur when a company reaches a top-level of participation and in conjunction with the cut in corporate income tax that is part of Rob Hahn's "Six Billion Dollar Man" proposal.

If a company were to lay-off any of the student hires or move its operations out-of-state, it would still be responsible for paying off the pre-agreed upon amount of tuition and student loans. In addition, the corporate income tax cuts associated with PIE would be negated and the company would be responsible for paying those taxes retroactively for the year(s) the current student hires were employed.

There will be financial incentive for participating higher educational systems.

The creation of PIE would also stipulate that the participating higher educational systems could not increase tuition costs and fees by more than two-percent yearly for the next eight years.