Study aims for college accountabilityby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota Measures is the first of what Minnesota higher education officials say will be a periodic snapshot of how the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are performing. The document is aimed at making the institutions more accountable in areas such as graduation rates and serving students of color.
St. Paul, Minn. — The report assembles information on subjects like tuition, the number of science graduates and the amount of research money coming into Minnesota. Officials intend to keep track of the data over time and gauge whether any areas require change.
Higher Education Commissioner Susan Heegaard said this first report already highlights some deficiencies that legislators or the institutions themselves can use to set priorities.
"The state's four- and six-year graduation rates -- the number and proportion of degrees earned in critical STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and health fields," Heegaard said. "The proportion of adults enrolled in higher ed stand out as areas with lots of room for improvement in our mind."
While Minnesota typically ranks high compared to other states for the number of people attending college, the report shows sagging rankings for the proportion of students earning degrees in STEM fields. The report also found Minnesota's proportion of degrees in health fields sank nationally to 40th in 2005, down from 37th the year before.
Heegaard also said the picture concerning access for students of color is mixed. The data indicate areas where students of color actually outrank their white counterparts. But non-white students trail when it comes to earning four-year and graduate degrees.
"Students of color are underrepresented among those who complete a degree in general, and they're overrepresented in the health care programs in the associate level and below," she said.
Another area of concern the study highlights is a gradual increase over time in the amount of tuition the families from the lowest income brackets are expected to pay.
"One point five percent may not seem like much. But if you think about the lowest income tax rates -- 5.5 percent, I believe -- if someone suggested moving that to 7 percent for low-income people, you can imagine the conversation you'd have," said Mark Misukanis, research director with the Office of Higher Education. "It's just going to happen in higher education without any kind of policy discussion. This is a dramatic change in what we expect from families."
Such revelations are not entirely new. Minnesota education and business leaders are well aware of the state's education performance, and their concerns are making their way into policy decisions. Gov. Pawlenty's proposed budget includes a $25 million bonus for each of the two systems based on reaching similar performance goals.
But the report collects what its authors believe are key indicators for high priorities. It ties those indicators to five goals, such as improving success of underrepresented students or contributing to the state's global economic competitiveness. It attempts to also present information in a standardized form, so it's more easily comparable among the various institutions and to other states.
The study's authors also codify previously stated goals, such as the University of Minnesota's vision to become one of the top three research institutions, and MnSCU's plan to retain a more diverse student population.
MnSCU's Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Planning, Leslie Mercer, says the document validates plans the system is already reaching for.
"We've really been focusing the past year or two on improving retention and graduation of students of color, and this report talks about how we need to do even more of that," Mercer said. "It talks about how we need to produce more nurses, for example, and we've been doing that for the past four or five years."
Minnesota is one of only a handful of states now keeping track of such indicators of educational success. The report's authors hope the information will be a basis for decisions at the Legislature, where more than $3 billion will go to support publicly funded institutions.