Report: Dire financial challenges for MnSCU system

MnSCU's offices in St. Paul
The offices of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system in St. Paul.
Tim Post | MPR News 2006 file

A new report says the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is facing dire financial challenges and that delays in addressing them will only make things worse.

The work group that spent eight months on the report says declining state funding may mean big changes for the system's 37 colleges and universities, which educate nearly 400,000 students a year.

Recommendations for dealing with the financial difficulties include consolidating duplicated services across the state, adopting more flexible labor practices and streamlining curriculum.

Chancellor Steven Rosenstone expects to have final recommendations for the system trustees by October.

The trustees board meanwhile has rebranded the overall name for the system's schools to Minnesota State instead of MnSCU.

Trustee Philip Krinkie asked if the group has discussed closing campuses or reductions in the number of courses offered. Laura King, the vice chancellor of finance and chief financial officer, said the group stopped short of such detailed recommendations to allow campuses to give them feedback.

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Some trustees questioned how the recommendations would save money and discussed why there wasn't more focus on making the case for more state funding. Trustee Margaret Anderson Kelliher said she had hoped for more details on the potential savings of each of the recommendations.

A proposal to dissolve the two faculty unions that represent instructors at the colleges and the universities was presented in the report. The work group said replacing the unions with a part-time faculty group and a full-time group would save the higher education system $5 million to $25 million annually.

Some faculty leaders expressed concerns about the report.

The Inter Faculty Organization, which represents university faculty, has said the move would hurt schools' ability to hire top instructors.

Kevin Lindstrom, president of the Minnesota State College Faculty union, said streamlining curriculum could make it more difficult for students to find courses they want close to home. He said that problem is magnified by the possibility of closing entire campuses.

Rosenstone said faculty members, students and others would have a chance to comment on the report over the next few months.