MARSHALL - MGT of America consultant Ray Thompson wants to hear from people in the region as he prepares to assess the higher education needs in southwest Minnesota.
Along with Todd Harmening, system planning director for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), Thompson spent a good deal of Tuesday receiving input from people at Southwest Minnesota State University.
"We're going to be looking at a couple of things," Thompson said. "We can look at a lot of data, but it doesn't tell the whole story. I like to come and visit campuses and communities. It gives me an idea of what the issues are. We feel like it's important to talk to people."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
MGT of America consultant Ray Thompson spoke at a public forum Tuesday at Southwest Minnesota State University.
The marketplace study will cover 19 counties in southwest Minnesota, exploring possibilities between two higher education institutions in the region. Minnesota West Community and Technical College and SMSU are part of the MnSCU system, which is comprised of 32 state universities and community and technical colleges. Minnesota West has five campuses - Canby, Granite Falls, Jackson, Pipestone and Worthington.
"We want your best thinking on programs that are critical to the region and how to sustain those programs and services," Harmening said. "And, where might there be better opportunities to collaborate between the two institutions?"
At the public forum Tuesday night, Thompson wanted input on what SMSU does well. He stated that it was Business 101 to balance the budget, especially when most institutions have to do more with less.
"You have to increase revenue and decrease expenditures," Thompson said. "But how do you do that? How do you increase enrollment?"
One woman suggested that hosting Boys State and other events at the college was a good thing, encouraging more people to visit the campus and possibly attend academically in the future.
One man said that he thought SMSU had done a good job with handicap-accessibility so disabled students could move freely around campus. Dual enrollment was also mentioned.
Thompson said that programs - like SMSU's culinary program - that create a buzz on a national level tend to be attractive to students and could help alleviate some of the pressure of the revenue issue.
Bill Mulso, SMSU associate VP for advancement, said he thought SMSU found a niche with offering introduction to college writing, advanced mathematics and Spanish to high school students.
Thompson also asked if SMSU missed the boat anywhere. One student brought up the issue of transferring credits from a two-year school to a four-year institution, which isn't always clear-cut. The fact that distance learning programs can take away the presence of students on campus was also discussed.
Earlier in the day, Thompson and Harmening generated ideas with faculty, employers and community members.
"One model doesn't fit all," Thompson said. "But for the study, we're looking for ways to be more efficient in services."
The prospect of sharing services between the two institutions was open for discussion. Combining customer service was used for an example, since a good deal of interaction between universities and students is online.
"Some students need face time, but only a small percentage," Thompson said. "But some places have been trimmed down so much already that they're working with a skeleton crew. Some people might be wearing 10 hats already."
Many things shape an institution, Thompson said, including the community, economy and technology.
"It's always evolving," he said.
Today, student groups at SMSU will meet with study organizers, who will also travel to the five Minnesota West campuses. Later this week, two surveys will be conducted. Students will be asked to participate in an electronic survey, while random employees in the region will be targeted. Thompson said he'd also meet with key legislators before making recommendations to the MnSCU chancellor.