St. Cloud State prez: How internal competition is hurting us

Potter (SCSU)

In covering MnSCU's Charting the Future report -- which calls for less competition and more cooperation among campuses -- I found my conversation with St. Cloud State University President Earl Potter quite helpful.

He's a plain speaker who was able to cut through the administrative and educational jargon in the report. And he was frank enough to give a few concrete examples of the problems that prompted MnSCU's change of course.

Here are a few highlights from our talk:

On how lack of cooperation hurts MnSCU's competitiveness in customized training programs:

"Right now, MnSCU does very little work for Minnesota's largest corporations in terms of customized training and education. And we've seen major Minnesota companies bring in universities from out of the state to provide an in-house MBA, for example. And one of the reasons MnSCU isn't even at the table is because it's not uncommon for three or four different MnSCU institutions to make independent approaches to a large company. And pretty soon we are dismissed because we look like we don't know what we're doing. We're not doing it together."

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On how academic coordination works now:

"We closed our aviation program. [MSU-]Mankato had said they were going to close theirs. They decided not to. The president of Mankato and I talked, and we agreed there was room for only one aviation program in the system. And it was not in the sweet spot of our strategic agenda, so we closed ours. And theirs is still going. ... But that was ad hoc. There was no system regulation or habit for doing that. ...

Program management across the system has not been the result of a plan, for example, for the size and shape for nursing education in Minnesota. ... There is one statewide program for nursing education at the graduate level, which is a good example of how we might work together. There has been no model for how we meet nursing needs in Minnesota [at the undergraduate level]. It's pretty much been institutions independently determining whether they could successfully mount a nursing program or not."

On an attitude of denial among some MnSCU employees that the system must adapt to a changing educational and financial landscape:

"[There are] a lot of folks in the system who have said, 'Ah, the MOOCs are a fad. The money is going to come back. We're the ones who understand education; the students have to listen to us.' There has been a degree of denial that this is a new game, that things are really different. [There was] one faculty member who said, 'Yeah, this is just like Y2K. Nothing really happened then.'"

On the goal for online education:

"Every institution has its own online agenda, its own online offerings. There's no talk among institutions about how to maximize the impact and our reach by offering online programming. It's all totally independent. So I can imagine a common front door to MnSCU online education with those courses being able to be applied at any MnSCU institution."

On how quickly the public might see the benefits of more campus coordination:

"You're going to get some benefits quickly. And you should see some benefits in the fact that the rate of tuition going up comes down significantly. ... If the Legislature took the [current tuition freeze] off and let us do what we wanted to do, I would predict that in the next biennium, we'd see [only a] 1-2 percent [tuition increase]. You'd see some self-discipline and cost efficiencies that come with changing the way we do business. I think you could see more students taking college credit in high school quickly. I think you can see credit for prior learning within a couple of years on a broad level."