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I read this Strib article because I suspected there had to be a catch to it. I was right. First, here’s what caught my attention:

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will ask legislators for $97 million more over two years. In return, leaders pledge to boost enrollment, cut administration by $44 million and cap tuition increases at 3 percent.

Officials of the higher education system said the $1.2 billion budget request approved Wednesday makes unprecedented promises to match state funding with private money. For example, if it gets $21 million in state funding for equipment and technology, the system will raise an equal amount from businesses.

It’s great PR saying that MnSCU is capping tuition increases at 3%. The devil, as always, is in the details:

If funded, the MnSCU system would limit tuition increases to 3 percent or $145 a year for a full-time college student and $205 a year for a university student. That limit does not apply to fees or room and board.

In other words, the lost tuition revenue will be recouped through higher student fees and more aggressive alumni fundraising efforts. There’s no indication systemic change is part of MnSCU’s agenda. Spin definitely is part of MnSCU’s strategy:

This is Chancellor Steven Rosenstone’s first budget request as head of the system of 24 two-year colleges and seven state universities, which enrolls more than 420,000 students. Much of its language focuses on educating more people for “high-demand, high-growth professions.”

It’s great to hear that MnSCU will focus more resources on educating students for “high-demand, high-growth professions.” It’s just that it doesn’t match with reality:

Floral Design

Central Lakes College

About this Program

Floral Designers provide a variety of products and services to the public. Products include floral arrangements for all occasions, blooming and foliage plants, and accessory gift items. Services include the care of plants and flowers, interior decorating, and providing consultation for weddings and other special occasion. People who enjoy art, working with and serving others, as well as those who enjoy growing and working with living plants and flowers will benefit from the Floral Design program. The Floral Design program prepares students for a wide variety of challenging and profitable careers. Students will learn to design traditional and contemporary flower arrangements; work with fresh, silk, and dried flowers; identify and care for flowering plants, foliage plants, and fresh flowers and greens.

I didn’t know that Floral Design fit the description of being a “high-demand, high-growth profession.” I’m betting most small businesses and large corporations weren’t aware of that emerging entrepreneurial opportunity, either. Then there’s the Natural Resources AAS Degree/Certificate program at Central Lakes. If a student inquired as to what they’d be qualified to do upon graduation, here’s what they’d find:

EXAMPLES OF JOBS RELATED TO THIS PROGRAM
The links below provide information from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network
(O*NET — www.onetonline.org) about occupations that may be related to this program including the knowledge, skills and
education level that may be required.
Reservation and Transportation Ticket Agents and Travel Clerks http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-4181.00

What “high-demand” field does this fit into, Chancellor Rosenstone?

Not to be outdone, Century College offers a degree in Global Studies. Here’s what students will learn:

Global Perspective

  • Describe and analyze political, economic, and cultural elements which influence relations of states and societies in their historical and contemporary dimensions.
  • Analyze specific international problems, illustrating the cultural, economic, and political differences that affect their solution.
  • Understand the role of a world citizen and the responsibility world citizens share for their common global future.

Here’s what Bryan Caplan recently said about the current state of higher education:

I’m currently in the 36th grade. After high school graduation, I spent four years at UC Berkeley to get my bachelor’s degree, and four years at Princeton to get my Ph.D. In 1997, George Mason hired me as a professor – and I’m still here. I have a dream job for life: GMU essentially pays me to do whatever I want, and I never have to retire. But while higher education has been very good for me, it has been a lousy deal for society.

Taxpayers heavily subsidize higher education, about $500 billion dollars per year. What does our society get in exchange? Conventional wisdom says that these billions lead to a massive increase in what economists call “human capital.” The nation’s colleges teach promising young people the skills they need to contribute to the modern economy, enriching us all. If you actually pay attention to the subjects that most students study, however, this story does not fit the facts.

Think about the classes you’re taking right now. How many are teaching you skills you’re ever likely to use on the job? There are very few jobs that use history, literature, psychology, social science, foreign languages, and the like. Think about your major: Does it even pretend to be vocational? There may be a few engineers in the audience, but most of us study subjects that simply aren’t very practical. And if you talk to engineers, even they spend a lot of time proving theorems, a skill you rarely use outside of academia.

It sounds like he’s familiar with MnSCU’s Floral Design, Natural Resources and Global Perspectives programs. This is the question that sticks out:

How many are teaching you skills you’re ever likely to use on the job?

It’s time to quit pretending that MnSCU is meeting our human capital needs. Further, it’s time to quit pretending that there isn’t tons of wasteful spending on each campus. Forget about raising Minnesota’s Higher Education budget. Let’s start by talking about how much waste should be sliced from the Higher Education budget.

Any other starting point will just lead to another status quo, reform-free, fat-filled Higher Education budget that Minnesota’s taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to subsidize.

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4 Responses to “MnSCU’s wasteful ways”

  • eric z says:

    Beginning, “cut administration by $44 million”?

    Do you expect a devil in THOSE details?

  • Gary Gross says:

    Read the entire post, Eric. It’s self-explanatory.

  • walter hanson says:

    Eric:

    You do understand if you do a comparison of the price of gasoline from 1980 through now and do a comparison with the price of college admissions the graph for college admission has grown far more dramatic because the colleges haven’t been forced to respond to price competition like the so called evil oil companies had to respond.

    Note reasons why the price of gasoline hasn’t jumped dramatically people have bought compat cars, tried to drive less. Do you have any real suggeestions for the colleges. They seem to just keep making more and more departments because they know that the government will give them more money directly or indirectly in the form of extra college aide and student loans.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  • Jethro says:

    Floral design? I truly doubt this program was developed after a needs assessment was conducted and public hearings were scheduled. MnSCU does not work. What useful purpose does the central office serve students and taxpayers? Inquiring minds want to know.

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