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A case for funding higher education; Atewologun: Riverland story stresses need for state funding

Dr. Adenuga Atewologun

Riverland Community College President

What is an appropriate level of funding? For Riverland Community College, it is $2.8 million added to base funding for the 2018-2019 biennium. The request will allow the college to continue to inspire personal success through extraordinary education at an exceptional value. The funding will add more than $73 million in annual economic impact to the region and help Riverland maintain an optimum staffing level to accelerate student success and improve performance outcomes in enrollment, retention and completion.

For all the 31 colleges and universities that make up the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, an appropriate level of funding is $143 million-plus, trusting the Minnesota State Board of Trustees to consult with stakeholders and make decisions about tuition rates.

Post-secondary education and training is an undeniable key component of the oxygenated blood that fuels the heart of the economy of the state of Minnesota. No one sector addresses the talent and equity challenges in a more powerful, effective, and efficient way than Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Collectively we serve:

•62,000 students of color

•50,000 first-generation college students

•92,000 low-income students

•95,000 students aged 25 years or older

•10,500 veterans

According to researchers at Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, (https://cew.georgetown.edu), in less than three years, 74 percent of jobs in Minnesota will require some form of post-secondary education to meet workforce needs. Only the District of Columbia, at 76 percent, exceeds Minnesota. Jobs held by teachers, nurses, police officers, radiologic technologists, fire fighters, artists, farmers, machinists, welders, carpenters, lab technicians, food safety inspectors, soil scientists, truck drivers, bankers, equipment sales persons, managers, information technologists, etc., make up a large part of Minnesota’s workforce. Riverland offers more than 90 program options, including 88 targeting career and technical education.

The story of Riverland is woven together with the compelling stories of the nearly 9,000 students we serve annually, about half of whom are credit seeking. Stories like that of

•Justin Ramaker (Wells), Gloria Estrada (Austin) and Tayla VonHagen (Albert Lea) who spoke at Riverland’s scholarship fund-raising breakfast event last week in Wedgewood Cove Golf Club in Albert Lea.

•Freeborn County Sheriff’s Dept. Transport Deputy Jamie Williamson, a 2016 graduate of Riverland’s highly reputable criminal justice program.

•Our radiology technology program that supplies 60 percent of all radiologic technologists in southeast Minnesota.

•Residents whose homes were built or renovated by Riverland’s carpentry program students and instructors in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

•Local employers who depend on us for talent development and employ our graduates.

•Area school superintendents who partner with Riverland to offer college in high school programs.

In a few days, Riverland celebrates the graduation of 547 students who have successfully completed a degree, diploma or certificate. It is a favorite time of the academic year for many of us in the education business. It is very satisfying to reflect on how the college has touched the lives of graduates and their families.

It is also the time of the year to recount accomplishments:

•Increased enrollment by 3 percent over the previous year.

•Further closed the achievement gap from 10 percent (2012) to 0.2 percent (2015).

•Raised $566,000 for scholarships and awarded 560 student scholarships.

•Expanded PSEO/concurrent partnership to 16 regional high schools and several course sections that served 2,000 regional students.

•Sought outside grants and received $2.6 million with a success rate of 71 percent.

•Submitted three capital bonding requests totaling $20 million.

•Started new programs in Food and Agricultural sciences.

•Started a self-paced fully online competency-based business certificate (FlexPace) for working adults.

•Realigned departments to improve student support services.

Without full funding, Riverland will have to take some drastic steps that will reverse the gains the college has made in the past biennium. We appreciate that as a public state institution, the taxpayers invest in us, and as you can see from the achievements above, we use those funds effectively, all with a lean number of employees and limited resources.

We thank the legislators for the heavy lifting involved in appropriations for competing needs. Funding of our colleges and universities at the appropriate level is a worthwhile investment in the future of our state in very concrete terms. The dividends of past investments are obvious. The state of Minnesota ranks in the top tier nationally in job creation, income, innovation, and best states to live. Funding at the requested level (with accountability for measurable outcomes) will serve the residents of our state very well.