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Bright Ideas: U of M President Robert Bruininks

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Bright Ideas
University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks was the featured guest on the program "Bright Ideas" on September 28, 2010. Minnesota Public Radio's Stephen Smith hosted the live discussion in the UBS Forum at MPR's St. Paul headquarters.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks was the featured guest on the program "Bright Ideas" on September 28, 2010. Minnesota Public Radio's Stephen Smith hosted the live discussion in the UBS Forum at MPR's St. Paul headquarters. 

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  Stephen Smith:  This is "Bright Idea: Fresh Thinking on Big Issues," a new program from Minnesota Public Radio News originating from the UBS Forum here in downtown St. Paul. I'm Stephen Smith. Each month we invite a guest to talk about critical questions facing Minnesota and to take some questions from the studio audience here in the Forum.

Our guest tonight is University of Minnesota president Bob Bruininks, who is stepping down at the end of this school year to go back to teaching and research. He is the 15th president of the University of Minnesota and has been in office for nine years.

He's worked at the University for some 42 years. His academic field is developmental psychology and educational psychology, but he spent a good part of his career in university administration. Welcome, Bob Bruininks.

Robert Bruininks:  It's great to be here with you, Steve. [applause]

Smith:  [3:32] So, let's talk first about how you got into the higher education business. You started out as an academic, as a researcher. Was that where you planned to make your career?

Bruininks:  [3:41] That's exactly where I planned to make my career. I arrived in Minnesota in 1968 from Vanderbilt University and started as an assistant professor. Much of my early career was concerned with assessing and studying the development of young children and particularly children with atypical development or learning challenges. Then I decided at some point in my career it'd be fun to get a different experience. So, after about I think it was four years   no, actually six years   I applied for a job in the governor's planning agency here in the state of Minnesota, and for two years worked there and helped craft the long term plan for moving people out of large congregate care facilities or institutions back into communities.

[4:34] Then, at the end of two years, I asked for an extended leave of absence, and my department chair said to me, "Not even Henry Kissinger can get more than two years from Harvard. That's it. You either come back, or you can resign your position."

[4:48] So, I decided to come back, and I dedicated from that point a lot of my career to issues of development, but I also spent a lot of time working on large public policy issues, Medicaid issues, K 12 reform. I helped craft the K 12 accountability system during the Carlson administration.

[5:09] So, I've been in and around public policy issues for a long time, and it was a natural career path to accept and assume administrative assignments along the way.

Smith:  [5:20] So, why does someone who's working in research and in policy go into university administration? Is it for the money, the fame, the groupies, that kind of thing?

Bruininks:  [5:31] I can tell you there's not much money or fame, certainly not much fame. I think it was Mencken who once said, "Those who can, do; and those who can't, teach; and those who can't teach, administrate," but I actually think it's a loftier profession than that. I basically view myself as more of a servant. I never sought to become the president of the university. I accepted the invitation or the opportunity to serve in various leadership positions starting at the departmental level, then I was asked to apply for the deanship of a college.

[6:08] Then when Mark Yudof came to the University of Minnesota as the 14th president, he asked me if I would serve as executive vice president and provost. So basically I have served in a variety of capacities at the University of Minnesota, but I didn't intentionally start my career to end up at this point. It was more a set of serendipitous opportunities and circumstances.

[6:30] But, the one gratifying part of serving in a leadership role is you have a chance to really build the capacity of your institution, in this case, the University of Minnesota.

[6:43] I think the most inspiring part of my job is to help other people create real opportunities in our society, create the solutions that are really going to make a difference in our world, to educate the next generation of leaders that we'll need in Minnesota and around the globe.

[7:02] So, that opportunity to build capacity to enable other people to get their work done has been one of the motivating themes in my life. I think that's why I can feel very comfortable going back to a former position as a member of the faculty, because I've been very much a part of this academic community and it's been a big part of my life.

Smith:  [7:25] You are the president of one of   what is this, the third or the fourth largest university in the country?

Bruininks:  [7:32] Well, we bounce around. It's probably around the third largest now. Arizona State in Phoenix, they've just had phenomenal growth in the population surrounding their university. But, we've been first some years, second, third. It's one of the largest universities on a single campus. It's one of the most complex in terms of the range of academic offerings. The National Research Council just came out with a report. They evaluated 69 graduate programs at the University of Minnesota. That was the second largest number of programs evaluated among public and private universities in the United States.

So, it's a large university, but it's also a very complex university, substantially because we're a research and land grant university. We have combined many of the academic programs that you find in two universities in many other states: Michigan, Michigan State; Washington, Washington State; Iowa, Iowa State.

[8:36] Those land grant functions are a part of the University of Minnesota system, and in many other places agriculture, veterinary medicine, and many other fields are found in a separate campus.

Smith:  [8:47] So, as the top guy at one of the biggest schools in the country, you have a unique position from which to view what's happening to American higher education.  Let's look out across the land, if you will, across the country, and tell me, as you're entering this final year of your presidency, how would you characterize the state of higher education in the United States? Some people say it's either in crisis or soon will be.

Bruininks:  [9:14] Well, I think there's little question that higher education faces some very daunting challenges, and many of them have to do with the demography of our population. We're getting older as a society, and that increasing age carries with it some changes in priorities. For example, the Peter Peterson Foundation has estimated that the commitments that we have to the future, largely around Medicare, Social Security, maybe Medicaid, is three times the entire GDP of the United States today. So, if you project that out to 2050 and beyond, we're facing some very daunting challenges.

[10:04] So, financial challenges are obviously toward the top of the list. We are facing some demographic challenges where some parts of our population are not keeping up educationally.

[10:19] It's one of the reasons why education has received so much attention in the last, you could argue, 40 years and recently became, in this past week, a very heated topic of conversation led by the president of the United States. So, I think we do face some challenges, but I think we also face enormous opportunities, or at least we have enormous opportunities.

[10:47] Arguably, the higher education system in the United States is the strongest system in the entire world. Twenty percent of the young people who leave their country and go study someplace else come to the United States, because they know that the universities in this country are among the very strongest in the world. Most of the top 50 universities in the world that are public and private institutions, about 40 of them, or close to 40 of them, are located in the different parts of the United States.

[11:18] So, when you look out into the future, a future where human capital, the development of an educated population, and the creation of a culture of innovation and a culture that really supports research, discovery, the development of new ideas, the United States and the higher education system in the United States is well poised to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

[11:42] I think our problems are that we don't have a grand long term strategy to keep our institutions of higher education strong, and some of that's going to require some real hard decisions at the state and federal level, but I think we're also going to, as leaders in higher education, and need to be a part of those solutions ourselves.

Smith:  [12:05] It's the case, though, that nearly as many people who enter higher education, college or university, don't end up completing their degree in the set amount of time, four years or six years, and at the University I think it's a 60 percent graduation rate in six years. Is that correct?

Bruininks:  [12:25] It's a little better than that now, and those rates are going up at a pretty rapid rate. The four year rate has doubled in the last six to eight years.

Smith:  [12:33] At the university.

Bruininks:  [12:33] Yes, at the university.

Smith:  [12:34] Right, but nationwide...

Bruininks:  [12:35] Nationwide, that's about correct. The problem with some of those statistics is that they tell you the percentage of students who enter a particular college or university and the percentage of those students who graduate four to six years later. They don't tell you if those students graduate by leaving one university and completing at another. I would assume that that might add another 10 to 15 percent to the totals.

[13:03] But, the completion rate is clearly not high enough. It's very, very costly to individuals who may sustain long term loans, and it's very costly to the long term future of our state and our country. So, my argument would be that the completion of college and increasing those completion rates ought to be one of our highest national priorities.

Smith:  [13:29] This has been happening over a course of time where the cost of going to many colleges and universities has doubled or tripled in the past 30 years   it's not necessarily the case at the University of Minnesota   but doubled or tripled at a time when obviously the inflation rate has not been doing that and people's salaries have not been doing that. [13:50] It feels to many people in the country like what we're putting in, if you will, in terms of tuition and what we're getting out in terms of graduates who are well trained for the 21st century   it feels to many people like that's out of sync. Do you feel that's true?

Bruininks:  [14:07] No, I don't feel that it's true, but I do think our fellow citizens are wise to worry about these issues. The cost of education to students and families has escalated. There are a number of reasons for it. The biggest single reason for that in public institutions has been the withdrawal of state support. State support for the University of Minnesota has been flat for more than 30 years. 

[14:35] In the last 10 years, it's gone up five tenths of a percent a year, and that's about one seventh of the increase in average state expenditures. So, the state's costs have gone up seven times what they've been allocating back to the University of Minnesota.

[14:52] So, that's one big cost driver. If you withdraw very significant amounts of support   at one time, 70 percent of the University's educational costs came from the state of Minnesota. Now, it's roughly 45 percent.

[15:07] A second cost driver here that we need to think about is that we've undergone a total revolution, or a very significant revolution, in the impact of technology on our daily lives, and there's no place on earth that invests more in technology than a place like the University of Minnesota, and I would argue, most of our other colleges and universities. We're very technology intensive operations to support research in the education of our students.

[15:38] So, I think these are big, big factors, and then thirdly, when you look at the CPI, it doesn't include the cost of technology. It doesn't include the cost of buildings and laboratories. It doesn't include the cost of labor.

[15:54] At a place like the University of Minnesota, we're in an international labor market where we compete for the best people not just in the United States but around the world, and if you're in a more competitive labor market, you often sustain higher than average costs.

[16:10] Having said all of that, I think we have to take very seriously these rising costs and their impact on students and families. I think there's some really good news in looking at these issues, but I think there are some very significant challenges we face.

[16:26] Higher education is relatively financially accessible, particularly in Minnesota, for students from low and moderate income backgrounds. So, the real story is not just what something costs, but what is the net cost and the net price to the people who are going to our colleges and universities.

[16:46] So, if you look at it one way and you say the university's tuition in the last 10 years has doubled, that's one way to look at it. So, it's gone up roughly 10 percent a year. That's on the high side; it hasn't gone up quite that much.

[17:03] But, if you look at the net cost to the average student from Minnesota, it's gone up about three percent a year in the last nine years, and that has a lot to do with the influence and impact of state and federal aid, grant programs for lower income students. It has something to do with something we call the University of Minnesota Promise Scholarship Drive, a drive that allowed us to raise $300 million for scholarship support for students at the University of Minnesota.

[17:30] All of these factors are reducing the net costs for students, but those costs are still rising at a fairly high rate. It's not sustainable, and it's not happening at the University of Minnesota.

[17:43] I mentioned the net price increase for most of our students last year with the benefit of federal stimulus money and our tuition policies and something we call the University of Minnesota Promise Scholarship for low and moderate income students. Many students actually saw a substantial reduction in their cost for tuition and fees.

Smith:  [18:04] But, that's not going to last.

Bruininks:  [18:05] That's not going to last, although I do not expect tuition rates to go up at double digit levels in the next several years. I think we're really squeezing on the cost side, and we simply can't sustain these higher escalating tuition costs for students and families. It's just beyond the reach of many of our families whose children attend the University of Minnesota.

Smith:  [18:33] I want to talk in a bit about the investments that families make and the debt loads that they and the students take on. But I want to talk for a second, though, about something that you had mentioned as a cost driver, which is technology. That's interesting to me, and I'd like to tease it out a little bit, because technology is also often described as one of the solutions to the high costs of higher education in this country today.

[18:59] If what you're describing is a set of technologies   I'm sure quite a wide variety of them, that have ended up actually raising the cost of an education   what happened to the promise of added productivity, reduced overhead? People are always talking about using technology as the solution to high prices.

Bruininks:  [19:23] Well, I think there's no question that technology has had a profound impact on the productivity of our colleges and universities. You'd have to look at a lot of different indicators. But, we used to have long lines that would go several blocks around the university, snaked several blocks around the University of Minnesota while students queued up to register for classes. That's no longer the case. You can register from South Africa, from London, your dorm room, your home in any community in Minnesota.

Smith:  [19:54] Is there an iPhone app for that yet?

Bruininks:  [19:56] Yeah, there probably is. You'd have to ask some of my younger colleagues or students at the University of Minnesota, but there is. So, I think there have been tremendous gains, for example, much more efficiency in the use of laboratory space. I think the real benefits of technology, though, have been really to expand capacity, and part of that is productivity.

[20:19] We have a different workforce today, largely because people do a lot of things themselves, and the people we hire expand the reach and the capacity of the university to promote our research or conduct our research but also to provide a world class education for our students. There is the sense that if you put everything online, the costs go down. But, putting high quality instruction online costs money.

[20:47] The research that we have in student learning indicates that students really want blended forms of education that are supported strongly by technology but also have this high interactive component with fellow students and a professor. Actually, the outcomes of research indicate that students learn better under that kind of a format.

[21:09] So, I don't think it's the case that the influence of technology is to drive down cost and make everything much, much cheaper. I do think it allows you to be much more productive, to expand the reach of what you do, and in some cases, though, to save money.

[21:27] Let me give you an interesting case study. It was not long ago, about eight, nine years ago, that the University of Minnesota extension service was in 87 counties and 91 offices throughout the state of Minnesota. In this next year, they'll be in 14 offices.

[21:40] They have the most technology intensive extension service in the country with the largest hits on websites and so forth if you look at their statistics. There's an example where costs have been driven down very substantially, but service expanded at the very same time by changing the model and changing it quite substantially.

[22:00] I think there are lots of stories in this area, but the main thing I would say is that productivity has increased if you look at a whole range of things. I mentioned that state funding has been flat at the University of Minnesota.

[22:15] I didn't mention that this year faculty and staff will bring in $825 million of grants and contracts. That's $0.98 of every dollar brought in from competitive grants and contracts to the institutions in higher education in our state. It creates about 40 to 50 thousand jobs throughout the state of Minnesota at the university and out in the community.

[22:35] You can't do that kind of work without investing in technology, without investing in buildings and laboratories that support this vitally important work to Minnesota and Minnesota's future.

Smith:  [22:45] Let's talk a little bit about why the University of Minnesota is different from other institutions of higher learning. It's a land grant institution. What does that mean? Tell us what the back story is on that.

Bruininks:  [22:59] The University of Minnesota is Minnesota's research and land grant university. The land grant part of our responsibilities actually started during the Civil War with the passage of the Morrill Act. Abraham Lincoln signed this bill in the middle of the Civil War to really expand educational opportunity throughout the United States, to create universities that would allow people from average economic circumstances to access the benefits of higher education.

[23:34] Now, we didn't get money; we got grants of land, and in some cases, those grants of land have produced very significant revenue. Some of the taconite revenues have produced scholarship programs at the University of Minnesota, taconite mined on the University of Minnesota land grants from this early 1860 period.

[23:56] The land grant universities across the United States   there are about 70 of them   also tended to focus in the early days especially on issues of agriculture, animal health, veterinary medicine, and they tended to be very, very connected through an extension service, at least later in the 1800s.

[24:20] Extension was developed to connect the benefits of research to the needs of rural communities throughout the state of Minnesota. So, that's the land grant focus.

[24:29] The thing that I find inspiring about the Land Grant Act, when you look at the original writings about the Land Grant Act, Senator Morrill and people who passed this legislation and President Lincoln really saw this as an investment in the economic development of the United States. These land grant institutions have been very, very strongly connected to public purposes and to the needs of their communities.

[25:01] Every university has a research and education and a public mission, but land grant universities have an extraordinary public responsibility in my judgment, an extraordinary responsibility to connect the benefits of research and innovation and education to the needs of our society, not just here, but around the world.

[25:20] I just returned from Morocco, where the University of Minnesota over a 30 to 40 year period had an absolutely transformative impact on this entire country.

Smith:  [25:30] How?

Bruininks:  [25:31] How? Well, we received a USAID grant back in the 1970s. This grant was concerned with educating young Moroccans to take positions of leadership in leading universities throughout the country. It produced 125 Ph.D.s and about 250 master of arts degrees during that period of time. Many of our faculty lived in Morocco. Students studied here. They were mentored in Morocco. 

[25:59] If you look at the leadership in the Moroccan government and Moroccan higher education and the leading research institutes of the country, you'll find an incredible number of Minnesota degrees. It was far beyond what I even anticipated before traveling there last week.

[26:15] Now, the U.S. government has given the country of Morocco $700 million to really promote economic development, particularly in agriculture and natural resources. They're hoping that the University of Minnesota again will become their very, very strong partner.

[26:34] So, this land grant tradition and this land grant connection is connected to nearly every continent in the world, but very, very strongly connected to the counties and the communities in Minnesota.

Smith:  [26:46] The context for the situation we're in today, where higher education has become an assumed part of the middle class American dream, that is a phenomenon that's unique or that's specific to the last 40 or 50 years of our history. It really dates back to the GI Bill when lots of men were returning from service overseas. Before that, a higher education was reserved relatively for the elite. When all these guys came back, the education system in this country exploded.

Bruininks:  [27:26] Yes.

Smith:  [27:26] It just grew exponentially, and there became this idea, for really the first time in our history, that for most folks, a college education was the right way to go to better yourself. Are we at a similar transformative moment, do you think, now in higher education where that model may have done its time, and now it's time to look for something different, the expectations should be different?

Bruininks:  [27:49] I think the expectations should be different in the 21st century. We now are roughly about 13th in the world in terms of college graduation. We used to be first about 30 years ago. I believe if you go back to the 1800s, getting a basic education in the first six grades was the ideal, and then early in the 20th century, a high school education became the normal expectation for the citizens of this country; later, obviously, higher education.

[28:30] Roughly about half of our people go on to post secondary education in the United States. My feeling, and the feeling of a lot of people today, is that college readiness and the ability to attend post secondary institutions, not necessarily four year colleges, should be the new norm.

[28:52] If you look at any kind of U.S. labor projections, the jobs that are going to expand in this century are going to be those jobs that require additional preparation and training, education beyond high school.

[29:05] So, I think college readiness should be the new standard for the 21st century, and I think we do need some new big ideas. The GI Bill was probably the most transformative piece of legislation in higher education since the founding of this republic, and we need a similar kind of a vision for the long term future of the United States.

[29:28] In the global economy, there are going to be two things that I think will really matter, and that, as I said earlier, would be the education of our people, the skills of our people. That's why Minnesota is such a strong state, and I think the extent to which we as a society and as a state and as a community can really support research, innovation, and the creation of ideas.

[29:51] In the late 1950s, the state of Minnesota was roughly 29th in per capita income according to the Federal Reserve statistics in our own community, and now we're in the top 10. We're one of the top economies not just in the United States but in the world, and that has everything to do with investment in education if you take seriously the analytical work that's been done by Dr. Arthur Rolnick, who was the head of research until very recently of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

[30:20] So, I think that should be the new norm, and we should think about how to get there. It's going to be very, very challenging to deal with the expectations that our people need to be prepared for this high skilled environment that I think we're going to inherit in the 21st century.

Smith:  [30:43] What kinds of skills, though? Are we talking about skills that require four years to learn, that require the economic expenditure and the debt that one might take on over four years?

Bruininks:  [30:51] I don't think it means that all students have to go and finish a four year degree, although I think if you ask their parents and you ask students who aspire to a college education, that's the norm, that's the aspiration that they really have. And I certainly don't think we ought to try to control it or discourage that kind of aspirational goal.

Smith:  [31:12] But, do you see a place   for example, at the University of Minnesota even, a place for a two year degree   for some sort of credential after some period of time? We've been working on this idea about time in the seat, if you will, as they say, time in the chair, and maybe that's the wrong way to be measuring things.

Bruininks:  [31:29] I think I would agree to this extent. First of all, I don't think the University of Minnesota should be in the two year college business. The state of Minnesota has a marvelous two year college system. 

[31:42] Once someone asked me, if I was interested in an acquisition in higher education, what would I try to acquire? It would probably be the creative two year college system in the state of Minnesota. It's a marvelous system that provides broad access at a very reasonable cost.

[31:59] Our two year college system is ranked in terms of cost third in the United States. It's operated by the MnSCU system. But, if you look at the tuition cost of our two year colleges in Minnesota, they're very, very affordable.

[32:16] MnSCU and the University of Minnesota and the private colleges worked together in the 1990s to create a uniform transfer curriculum that allows students to start in two year colleges and transfer to the University of Minnesota. About 30 percent of our undergraduates transfer that way from other two year and four year colleges. So, I think there are many, many ways to drive down the cost of higher education for students and families. I think we need another big idea in this area.

[32:45] One of the things I would argue is that we need to do a much better job of aligning and coordinating the higher education systems and resources of the state of Minnesota with the K 12 system. If we're going to reform our high schools, I think our colleges and universities have to be a big part of that solution. We have to be real partners in that process.

[33:08] Let me just give you an interesting statistic that I discovered on our entering freshman class. The freshman class in the Twin Cities Campus   and actually at the University of Minnesota, Morris, the statistic is even more favorable   will have about 30 credits, very close to 30 credits' college work, when they walk in the door.

[33:27] That's close to a year of work in a college or university in Minnesota, two semesters of work. If the curriculum for those 30 credits was better aligned with the core requirements of our colleges and universities, that's equivalent at the University of Minnesota to getting a $25,000 scholarship.

[33:47] So, I'm a big advocate for this standard of college readiness, a big advocate for college in the schools programs where faculty work with high school teachers to improve instruction, post secondary options program where you can take college credit at colleges and universities throughout the state. All of that I think can help drive down the cost of education and improve educational opportunity for students.

[34:14] Now, what happens is, the students will arrive at the Twin Cities Campus or any of the other campuses - UMD or Morris or Rochester or Crookston. They can come to our campuses, and if they walk in the door with 30 credits of college related work and they can apply much of that to our degree, what I find they do is they take two majors.

[34:33] They take additional enriched courses. They go on study abroad. So it isn't just a matter of driving down cost; it's creating this enormous opportunity for students to make choices regarding their future and regarding their education.

[34:47] So, I think one of the big ideas we ought to be thinking about is the human capital strategy, a long term human capital strategy for the State of Minnesota, one that really integrates, better integrates, our goals and our strategies from the very early stages of life in the pre school years, where we know from the work in neuroscience that if you invest early in the life of a child you get phenomenal rates of return, to creating this better integration between our schools and our colleges and universities.

[35:19] It will take some work, but I think there's the opportunity to drive down cost for people, create more opportunity for people, and engage in educational reform at the same time.

[35:33] The whole buzz this week has been about reforming education, and it reminded me of the conversation we had in the 1980s when the federal report came out at that time. It's interesting to me, across decades and across political parties, the condition of education and the long term trajectory of the country is on everybody's mind, whether you're talking about the reform of K 12 education, the cost of higher education.

[36:03] It tells me, or it suggests to me, that the citizens of this country know that education is probably going to be the driving force in the 21st century. It is going to be the area of investment that will most distinguish the United States from other countries of the world.

[36:20] I'm on the optimistic side of the fence. I happen to believe we're well positioned to confront, embrace these challenges, and actually create this kind of opportunity for our fellow citizens that I think they're going to need to really compete and compete well in this very challenging period of time.

Smith:  [36:40] Is it hard to be an optimist in this economy? One of the issues that is really disturbing quite a few people is the problem of folks at the lower end of the economic spectrum taking on educational debt with no real prospect of paying it off, where what might seem like an investment in the future turns out not to be.

Bruininks:  [37:03] I think that's a real issue, but I think there's also a lot of misunderstanding of the facts. The federal government many years ago passed the Pell grant bill. It provides grants   not loans, but grants   to low income students. Generally, those grants go to students with adjusted family incomes of about $40,000 or less.

 [37:30] Minnesota has a state grant program that can be combined with the federal grant program and goes roughly to adjusted family income of about $60,000. And more and more universities are doing what we are doing. We have this University of Minnesota promise scholarship, a need base scholarship program that provides free tuition and free scholarship to students attending our campuses whose family incomes are such that they can't really make any financial contribution to support the education of their son or daughter. And that is a graduate study scholarship up to about a $100,000 of adjusted family income in the state of Minnesota, which is a 125 percent above the median income of our state.

[38:14] So, college and universities, public and private, are really doing a great deal to raise private money to support scholarships, to blend those resources with the federal and state funding. When you add that together, the adjusted cost is less than nominal cost and they sort of make the analogy, "you don't go into a car dealership and say can I pay the highest price."

[38:42] And so there are these pricing mechanisms that I think do provide students the opportunity to drive down their loans. But, the loan values are really high. I must tell you I am a first generation college student. I funded my education. It was easier to fund it in the late 1950s and early 1960s; far easier than it is today.

[39:06] But, even if you leave with roughly an average indebtedness of about $20,000 at the University of Minnesota, you amortized those cost, repaying that loan over a period of time. There is not a single investment that is better in terms of creating a much more promising future for yourself than to invest in a college education in a high quality degree.

[39:29] Now, the problem we have in the United States today is indebtedness. But, I don't think it's a huge problem at places like the University of Minnesota or many of the Republican institution in our state.

Smith:  [39:43] Where is it a problem?

Bruininks:  [39:44] I think it is a problem in many of the proprietary   I will be blunt about it   many of the proprietary institutions.

Smith:  [39:51] The for profit.

Bruininks:  [39:52] The for profit institutions. Not all of them. I think many of them are really high class universities that provide a very, very important niche in our society. But, I think the biggest problem is not that undergraduate problem. I think the biggest problem is when young people finish a degree at the University of Minnesota and decide they want to go on to the field in medicine, there the debt loads can rise anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000. And that is not a good long term human capital strategy for the state of Minnesota, or for the country at large.

 [40:29] So, we have an issue, we have a problem here and we do need a much bigger set of ideas to deal with these rising costs and a drive down the cost of the students.

[40:38] I think some of the responsibility rest on the shoulders of leaders in higher education today. We need to get much more aggressive in driving down the cost of our operations and becoming much more productive. I think we can do better to leverage the investments we make in K12 and higher education to make it easier for people in the later stages of high school to take challenging work and get ready for college, and in many cases, drive down the costs through taking college work.

[41:08] I think we can do much more interest in our fellow citizens and giving back. People who went through on the GI Bill recognize that they had a wonderful gift from United States, their fellow citizens. They deserved it. It was in my judgment one of the most transformative acts of our government in the last 100 years.

[41:29] And these people are now in the position where they can give back and they will give back. I started this scholarship drive and someone told me that this is impossible, you can't raise much money for scholarship, and I said that maybe your assessment, but it is not acceptable. We need to ask people who have benefited from the University of Minnesota education, or from education anywhere, to think about giving back, give the same opportunity to young people and working adults today.

[41:56] And we were raising five to seven million dollars a year for scholarships at the University of Minnesota. Not a particularly impressive number and we started this promise sort of mile campaign and raised the money from $40 to $60 million a year and went over $300 million.

[42:11] I think people will give back. They want to make sure that young people and working adults in our society have the same opportunity that they enjoyed in their lives. And so, it isn't just one thing we needed to do. Cost is a big factor. We need to use our resources much more effectively. We need to ask for new transformative ideas, like the National Defense Education Act, where we have real needs in our society.

[42:38] In general medical practice or general surgery or pediatrics or psychiatry   fields that don't pay as much as, let's say, surgery. If we had a National Defense Education Act as we had in the late 50s, we would have fellowships for people that pursue careers in science and math teaching and other fields that are highly important to the future of our nation, and help them with the cost of education.

[43:04] So, I think we need more than one thing. We need a human capital agenda for this 21st century. One where we really leverage all the resources we have on the ground and can create in the future.

Smith:  [43:16] We've been talking a lot about sort of the student side of things   the cost of going to college or university. Let's talk about the teaching side for a moment and what needs to change on the teaching side. We had a question from one professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, who wrote in through our public insight network that the University's promotion and tenure and salary award system rewards research over teaching. That's this person's view and I think his argument would be in the 21st century that is an outmoded system. Do you agree?

Bruininks:  [43:51] No, I don't quite agree with that assessment for a couple of reasons. First of all, teaching does matter at the University of Minnesota when it comes to promotion and tenure. I've seen a number of very talented academics leave the University of Minnesota because they paid too little attention to teaching. Secondly, we have teaching rewards on a system wide basis where we recognize every year the most outstanding teachers in the university of Minnesota. 

[44:19] They become part of a teaching academy to advice on the improvement of instruction. We've really invested much more in the last several years in improving the quality of teaching and learning. If you look at the student's satisfaction surveys that we conduct all the time, students are very, very high in their evaluation of the faculty who worked with them and the quality of their education.

[44:43] I regularly have parents come to the University's home for graduation ceremonies. They are proud recipients of the University of Minnesota degrees and they tell me regularly and persistently that their son or daughter is just having a fabulous experience on our campus. It doesn't mean everybody does and that some people aren't disappointed, but teaching does matter, and there is a real strong emphasis on the improvement of teaching.

[45:10] In fact, we just opened a new building called the Science Teaching Student Service Building on the Twin Cities Campus that is absolutely 21st century in terms of highly interactive forms of teaching and learning.

[45:21] So, I think we can't afford today especially when we are asking young people and their families to pay the kind of prices that are associated with our colleges in the University.

[45:32] We can't afford to neglect our teaching responsibilities, and I think the faculty at the University of Minnesota and the other colleges and universities that I know about take that responsibility very seriously. We are though a research and land grant university, we have an extraordinary responsibility to connect research and innovation to our educational mission and the needs of our society. And so, I think it is appropriate for that to be part of the reward structure.

[46:03] I mean, there are many, many great colleges and universities where you can get a fabulous education in this country. But, there are few what Jonathan calls "Great American Universities" that have this combined mission of teaching in research. We are one of them.

[46:19] And it's the backbone, I think, one of the strongest aspects, of the American higher education system, and it needs to be preserved, it needs to be strengthen, and we need people who can carry on this dual responsibilities, a blending research and teaching. The education that many of our students get today really integrates an experience with the faculty member in the laboratory or out in the field or in artistic performance.

[46:47] So, I think I wouldn't separate them. This is a myth that if you do research, you probably are not going to be terribly a good teacher and that is simply not true. Some of the most talented professors   and I think this is a general rule   are people who are very, very active in their fields at the same time.

Smith:  [47:07] Now, you've talked about the need for, among other things, closer coordination with the state's community colleges, the state college system, and etc. And an adjunct at one of the state colleges wrote in through our public insight network "Why not have The University of Minnesota be 'the' graduate and research university for the state. And if you will, leave the general teaching burden to other schools?" If there are too many buildings to support now, I think you've even said we have a campus every 30 miles in this state, why not divide up?

Bruininks:  [47:48] Well, I don't think it works that way. We're very much in a market economy. If you look at the applications, let's just take the Twin Cities Campus for a moment. Last year, there were 37,000 students who applied for admission into the freshman class at the University of Minnesota. Many of them applied elsewhere too. But, that number has more than doubled in the last five to seven years. 

[48:14] If you look at their second choices, they don't necessarily decide to go someplace else in Minnesota. They're looking for a big 10 experience, they're looking for an opportunity to attend a research university like Perdue or the University of Minnesota.

[48:27] So, students are very, very selective, and they seek out educational options that really appeal to them. Some students like to study in a smaller liberal arts environment. They'd rather go to one of the great private colleges, or the University of Minnesota Morris if they're interested in staying in Minnesota. Others like the diversity and the opportunities that are in our other four year systems, in the public systems in the state of Minnesota.

[48:56] But, it doesn't necessarily compute that if we got out of the undergraduate business, that we'd keep all of those students in Minnesota. In fact, I think there's very, very powerful data that would suggest it would be an enormous brain drain for the University to get out of many of theses fields.

[49:10] Secondly, if you look at the University of Minnesota's academic profile at the undergraduate level, you have a large number of engineering degrees, you have a large number of degrees that really prepare students to go into fields of technology, medicine, and advance study. And without on undergraduate system, there is really no good   if you look across the country, you cannot find a major research university that operates only at the graduate level. The really best ones blend undergraduate and graduate education.

[49:45] And the third point I would make, this kind of model would bankrupt the state of Minnesota. Undergraduate education pays, as graduate and professional education does, a big part of the cost of the University of Minnesota. It's a great deal, in my judgment. Tuition is roughly about $11,000 on the campuses of The University of Minnesota. I think, in terms of values for your money, it's a really good education for the investment that young people make.

Smith:  [50:18] Given the University of Minnesota, as you described it, its mission to conduct research and to promote the sort of economic welfare of the state to be an economic development engine, what sense does it make to keep messing around with things like the humanities and liberal studies? There are plenty of other institutions that can do that. It may seem like something that isn't as critical in the 21st century.

Bruininks:  [50:48] Well, I think it's absolutely critical for students to have a strong liberal education. As a parent, I said to my sons when they went off to study at different places, and they all chose to make sure they got far enough away from their father.

Smith:  [51:06] I never did that.

Bruininks:  [51:07] No, but they didn't want me hassling them on going to the library and making sure they were cracking their books. So, one went off the Colorado College on a hockey scholarship, another went to Notre Dame, another on went to Dartmouth, and so forth. They had great experiences, but I told them as they left home "You make sure you get a really strong grounding in humanities. You make sure that that liberal education is just an anchor in your four year baccalaureate degree." And that's why we spent a lot of time thinking about what should do into what we call the liberal education requirements on the campuses of The University of Minnesota. And that's a conversation that's occurring all over the United States.

[51:48] Now, if you look at statistic in terms of at least trends over the last 30 40 years, there are fewer students majoring in humanities today. But, I find large numbers of students on our campuses taking academic minors, taking double majors in the humanities and the social sciences.

[52:08] From my point of view, the humanities really, in many, many ways, and I think very substantially, really enrich the quality of education. They challenge students to think. I think it's probably one of the best preparations for being a citizen in our society, for being a really competent adult. You learn to write, and reason, and think about very, very serious issues.

[52:35] So, I would argue that no university could be very complete without really string liberal studies. And I would, for one, argue that that would be very, very short sighted. When you step back for a moment, and you say "What are the big issues of the 21st century? And how are we going to get our hands around them and solve them?" If you're looking at health care and you're looking at medicine, many of the profoundly important issues are not about how to deliver medicine, or where do deliver medicine, and how many tests and diagnostic devices do you need, but they have ultimately to do with value based questions   about the allocation of resources, about the meaning regarding the end of life and how to help people cope with the big challenges that many of us have had to deal with in our own families.

[53:24] You learn to think about those profoundly important issues that have to deal with ethics, and morals, and the other issues that are so profoundly important by studying in humanities, by studying in the liberal arts and connecting what you learn there to the other areas of academic life that may be a part of your interest.

[53:45] So, I would argue very strongly that, in the 21st century, we probably need more emphasis on these areas, to make sure, even if students aren't electing as much, to major in those fields, to make sure they're strongly connected to those fields as a part of a broad and a very deep educational experience.

Smith:  [55:24] Well, let's stop now, Bob Bruininks, and let's take some questions from the audience here at the UBS Forum. Our microphone handler is ready. Shall we start with, why don't we start with this fellow down here? Tell us who you are and where you're from.

Kevin Kopichke: I'm Kevin Kopichke from Alexandria.

Smith:  [55:46] And I believe you are at Alexandria Technical and Community College.

Kopichke: [55:51] Indeed I am. President Bruininks, you spoke of a new bold idea, a possible new bold idea, aligning and integrating our P 12 system with higher ed, and spoke for the value of students earning concurrent credit and PSEO credit while they're in high school. Could you maybe expand a bit on the future of that system? Maybe identify some of the specifics that might be linked to it, in terms of maybe some funding issues and some system linkages. And also, how might we champion and build that system, as we look to a seamless integration for life long learning?

Bruininks:  [56:30] Well, several questions embedded in your question. Let me just start. I had the privilege of working with Chancellor McCormick in a former Commissioner of Education to build something that was then called the P16 council. It's now called the P20 Council and...

Smith:  [56:48] P16? P20?

Bruininks:  [56:50] Yeah. Now it's P20, which is pre school through 20 which basically takes you through a four year baccalaureate degree and beyond. And that particular council brings together leaders throughout the state of Minnesota. We rotate the chair position every two years so that one period the president of the University chairs this council and then Chancellor McCormick chairs it, and then ultimately the... I think Chancellor McCormick is chairing it now. And then the Commissioner of Education takes a rotating term.

[57:24] What I'm getting to here is that gives us a forum to discuss these very, very important issues. So, one of the things we did in my tenure, and I just finished this last year, is we asked the faculty leaders in our colleges and universities to work with teachers and others in our state to define the standards for K 12 education, particularly science and mathematics standards.

[57:49] So, that's about developing an expectation and a vision for what it means to be college ready in the state of Minnesota which I think should be the new norm in the world and a new world class standard for Minnesota.

[58:04] What I found to be interesting is these teachers and professors had absolutely no difficulty working together. We had chairs with some of our leading academic departments participating in this effort. I think it developed very rigorous, long term standards for the state.

[58:22] Now, where am I going with this? I think achieving this better integration between high schools and colleges in our colleges and Universities has to be built on this kind of platform. It can't be just courses everywhere and courses on anything. They have to be really rigorous courses that meet high college standards and it can't just be selling credits and trying to make money.

[58:46] We have to make sure that these are rigorous courses, that they really deal with challenging students in the main areas of academic study that are a part of a college degree or a post secondary learning experience as they get at A grade college. Incidentally, his college would be one that I would put at the top of my list for acquisition. But anyway, I think that's got to be a part of it.

[59:16] And the third thing that has to be done here is we have to change the funding systems. Right now, colleges and universities have very little incentive to develop post secondary options for high school students because the rate of reimbursement is pitifully low, compared to what they receive through normal tuition means.

[59:37] So, I think one of the things we have to do is to change that. The immediate question is going to be how are you going to pay for it? Well, actually you have to pay for it, in part, by driving down the cost of K 12 education, or putting the money into K 12 education and reimbursing the colleges and Universities. There are ways to do this. It doesn't mean we have to add a whole new chunk of financial obligations to the State of Minnesota. In fact, I would argue we could use our resources much more effectively.

[60:06] The benefits would be profoundly important to the students attending our colleges and universities. How about walking in the door with a $25,000 scholarship? There are students who actually finish their degrees now in three years, but many of them don't want to. They want to stay the fourth and get this kind of enriched education. But, think about the benefits of attending and completing a two year degree if you started out with about 10 to 12 credits or even more toward the completion of those requirements.

[60:37] But, I think it's going to take aligning standard   so know what we're talking about having really good quality control, making sure these courses are rigorous, having K 12 educators work arm in arm with people in higher education   and then developing a reimbursement system and a transfer system across these different areas of our educational landscape that will work so that students know what to expect and parents know how to guide their young sons and daughters in the quest for a good education in the long term.

Smith:  [61:17] One of these guys in the middle row. Tell us who you are.

Michael Kempnich:  [61:22] My name is Michael Kempnich. I am a student at the University of Minnesota. President Bruininks, a week ago today the Penn State Board of Trustees voted to eliminate coal use on their campus. They're the third big ten school and one more of a growing number of American universities making pledges and plans to move beyond coal. 

[61:45] Currently, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities operates the last coal burning plant in Minneapolis, and one of only two university owned coal plants in the state. Recognizing the great strides that the University of Minnesota has already made in sustainability, my question is this. What is the future of American universities burning coal and when does the University of Minnesota plan to phase out this dirty and dangerous fuel?

Bruininks:  [62:14] I don't know that I have a precise answer, but I will point out, as you did in your question that the university is a leader in the country with respect to sustainability policy. We're one of the few universities that very early developed a board policy on sustainability that runs through everything we do. 

[62:33] Secondly, the plant that you're talking about does burn coal, but it's also a plant where we're experimenting with biomass, oat hulls and other alternatives to coal. We will continue to do so.

[62:48] Thirdly, this is a place that does extraordinary work in research and development on renewable fuels. There's going to be a new wind turbine going up not too far from here that will be run by the Saint Anthony Lab. We're looking for all kinds of ways to drive down the use of coal long term.

[63:08] I can't tell you exactly when that conversion will occur, but in the case of the University of Minnesota, we have a flex fuel kind of operation. We're trying very much to drive down the cost of energy and the use of energy throughout the campus. I would just tell you in the last five years we have avoided about $40 million worth of costs by looking for alternative fuels and buying our fuels much more intelligently.

[63:35] We've had a conservation program at the University of Minnesota that saved $2 million just alone on the Twin Cities Campus. One of the ways to really reduce the toxic effects or the effects on the environment that you're worried about and concerned about is to really be much more conservation oriented as I think we are at the University of Minnesota.

[63:57] But, I don't think there's a simple solution here. I can't give you an answer as to when that kind of conversion will occur, but I can tell you that people are deeply committed to be really good stewards of this earth and we're going to take your question seriously as we go forward.

Andrew Spaeth:  [64:19] Andrew Spaeth with the Minnesota State University Student Association.   Many of Minnesota State College and University students are non traditional students, meaning that they are not coming to college directly from high school and maybe balancing their education with a job or family responsibilities. What impact will this have on the future of higher education in Minnesota?

Bruininks:  [64:51] I think one of the great things about the higher education system in Minnesota is that you have multiple options. One of the most important things we can do is to keep higher education accessible for working adults. That student profile is more common in many ways in the MNSCU system than it is at the University of Minnesota.  But, we have tens of thousands of students who study part time on campuses of the University of Minnesota. So, that's really an important thing to do. This is an area where quite coincidentally I think you can better leverage technology to serve students in more effective and more cost effective ways.

[65:33] There are about 20,000 students in our system and many more in the MNSCU system that are taking courses now online or taking blended forms of education that allows students to study and telecommute and do all kinds of things that weren't accessible to them some years ago.

[65:50] So, I would argue very strongly that we need to build financial aid policies, tuition policies and transfer policies that really help our working adults in the State of Minnesota pursue their education and pursue their educational dreams.

[66:06] This is going to be a learning society. This is not going to be a society in which a few of us will go to school for a few years, hang up the shingle, and stop learning. We are going to have to learn and adapt throughout our lifetime in this global economy and we need to make that easier for people in the circumstances that you describe.

Smith:  [66:26] President Bruininks, I have a question that's related to the news over the last week or two about the television documentary "Troubled Waters," which was produced with the University of Minnesota and its broadcast on public television was spiked at least temporarily by the University of Minnesota. Can you tell us why that decision was made to try and cancel the broadcast and what your role in it was?

Bruininks:  [66:58] Let me deal with the first question first. There wasn't a decision to cancel the program or to cancel the film. The way things work in a university and should work, in my opinion, is that we should do everything within our power to protect the academic freedom of the people who work at the university. They have to be free to follow their curiosity, to develop their work with absolute protection of the University of Minnesota.

[67:34] So, that was never at risk and never at stake. In fact, I have spent a good deal of my time as president defending the rights of our faculty to publish what they think is important to publish, to pursue lines of work that maybe inconvenient and unpopular in our society. That has never been something at risk at the University of Minnesota.

[67:56] What happened in the case of this particular film is, faculty colleagues raised some questions about the scientific strengths of the film. And one of our vice presidents, who has delegated responsibilities from the Board of Regions through the President of the University to look after these issues, was asked to look at the film.

[68:18] Her name is Vice President Karen Himle. She looked at the film and felt, along with others, that it might be advisable to appoint a committee to look at the film and to think about ways that it might be strengthened.

[68:36] Following some uproar about this issue and the return of the Director of the Bell Museum, we were able to determine that there was sufficient oversight and scientific support for this film that it should really go forward. And so we reversed the decision and it's now scheduled for viewing on the 3rd of October; that is this Sunday.

[69:04] I am not particularly pleased that this became a big public issue, because I think the University has very deep values that go back from all the way to its founding to protect the rights of our faculty and students and staff, to pursue their curiosity and to really advance our culture.

[69:27] So, this film will be seen and my role was I was part of a conversation in Morocco that decided this film should go forward. It will be shown, be viewed twice. The one thing you can say about what happened here is this will be the largest showing and the best attendance for any inaugural event we have had of this type at the University of Minnesota.

[69:55] So, I think a lot more people are interested in this film and interested in what it has to say about the Mississippi River watershed than might have been the case otherwise, but I have asked people to really look at our procedures to make sure if at all possible that this doesn't happen again, but there was never any threat to academic freedom.

[70:14] Vice President Himle has been pilloried in the press I think quite unfairly. She was doing her job. That is her job to give advice to people. And I think she acted with the best of intentions, with courage and with real integrity. And I have said it publicly and I will repeat it again that she enjoys my full confidence. And I have great confidence in the leaders who came to this I think correct judgment that the film should go forward and we should engage the public in the kind of debate that I think we should have.

Smith:  [70:51] Have you seen it?

Bruininks:  [70:52] I have seen it, yes.

Smith:  [70:54] Probably after the flap started?

Bruininks:  [70:55] No, actually   well kind of right in the middle.  I watched a football game that I like to forget and then I went home to pack, but I watched it at midnight one night just before I left for Morocco. There are some really good qualities in the film. There are some important issues that I think are raised. 

[71:21] But, I think it is also legitimate in an academic environment, like the University of Minnesota to raise questions about the scientific veracity of the materials you are looking at or the arguments you are participating in and that's what happens in a university.

[71:37] You can't have academic freedom without also the freedom to question and that basically happened here. Academic environment is kind of messy environments where people argue when they fight about issues. And the big questions of our time, I hope that never leaves, the sort of the spirit of the University of Minnesota.

[71:55] But, I do think there are ways that we need to handle these issues and hopefully handle them in a less stressful fashion. But, I can tell you what's kind of ironic to me is one of the leading faculty members has a major role in this film, has been criticized many times for his research. And I have had to defend it in front of some of the most powerful groups in the State of Minnesota.

[72:26] I do it gladly and I will do it again. It's why we fought with international resistance to successfully perform Dario Fo's play, "The Pope and the Witch." I mean this is a part of the culture.