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Forum addresses higher education needs, aligning MNWest with SMSU

Robert Holloway (left), senior consultant with MGT and Todd Hardening, MnSCu's system director for planning, at an open forum on the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College April 5, 2011.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- Changing demographics and the current fiscal deficit have undoubtedly impacted those within the realm of higher education.

Economic factors, as well as other needs within higher education in the southwest Minnesota region were among discussion topics at an open forum on the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College on Tuesday.

The forum was part of an ongoing study by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU), which has contracted MGT of America Inc. to carry out the study and propose changes to Chancellor James McCormick.

The study was stimulated by a number of factors, particularly the announcement of Southwest Minnesota State University's President David Danahar of his upcoming retirement this June.

Tuesday's forum was part of a series of meetings between MGT consultants and area faculty, administrators, students and industry and community representatives. A similar forum took place at the SMSU campus last week.

Community members from Worthington, as well as Minnesota West staff from the Worthington and Luverne campuses were present to voice concerns about the institutions as well as their strengths.

"In the status quo, both institutions are doing great things in the region," Robert Holloway, senior consultant with MGT, said of Minnesota West and SMSU. "And we need to work on figuring out how we can draw on those strengths."

The possibility of aligning Minnesota West's five campuses with SMSU was a popular topic of discussion.

And while concerns were expressed as to how such an alignment could adversely effect the respective institutions; both Holloway and Todd Harmening conveyed that the ultimate goal was two enhance the two institutions.

"There are a lot of things happening and there's good articulation happening between the two institutions already," Todd Harmening, MnSCu's system director for planning, said. "We're working on how we can strengthen those relationships through this process."

Holloway also reminded attendees that institutions such as Minnesota West and SMSU were a result of an evolution of several organizations that have merged together over the years.

Many lessons were learned during those processes and he expressed his desire to have similar success with any future endeavors.

Several attendees applauded Minnesota West's present online programs, stating that such programs have developed well beyond other institutions part of the MnSCU system.

While Minnesota West has progressed, there are still various opportunities for continued success.

"We're here to see this local entity grow within our respective communities," Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh said to representatives.

Oberloh noted that Minnesota West's growth, particularly on the Worthington campus, has been hindered by the lack of student housing.

Although there may be an obstacle with housing, several city officials commended the institutions'' efforts to adapt to a changing world and keep up with evolving industries -- highlighting the addition of the biotechnology lab technician and truck driving training programs at the Minnesota West Worthington campus, as well as the partnership with Sanford Health and the health care programs at the Luverne educational center.

Neither Holloway nor Hardening could offer insight as to how future institutional configurations could affect academic programs or staffing.

"We're not going to know that at this point," Harmening said how aligning the two institutions could affect staffing. "We've really tried to focus on where the two institutions can be most responsive to the region and the communities that are involved."

The study has overwhelming noted the importance of the two higher education institutions to the region and to their respective industries.

"There aren't a lot of answers to be offered at this time," Holloway expressed to attendees. "We're just getting everything out on the table right now. We have a lot of ground to cover, but hopefully we've opened up some avenues for research this evening."

The results of the study are tentatively scheduled to be announced within the next few months.

The MnSCU chancellor is expected to present a recommendation for an interim president at SMSU to the Board of Trustees in May.

Members of the public who were unable to attend the forum and would like to submit written comments on higher education needs of the area can submit them to Todd Harmening at or by mail to 30 7th Street E., Suite 350, St. Paul, MN, 55101.