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Housing shortages and salary inequities within higher education discussed

WORTHINGTON -- In an effort to open the lines of communication between the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system and its students, Board of Trustees member Jacob Englund visited Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus, on Monday afternoon.

The 15-member board presiding over MnSCU is appointed by the governor. Among their responsibilities are system planning, fiscal management, tuition and fees and admission requirements.

MnSCU includes 32 institutions across 54 campuses in 47 communities. Englund serves as the liaison between the board and community college students.

Speaking to a group of faculty members and students in an open forum, Englund expressed his eagerness to hear opinions from students and faculty members.

"We want to know what's going on (campus)," he said. "We want to hear what you like, what you don't like and what we can change."

The lack of student housing has been a major issue for students and faculty members in previous years. The issue of the lack of funding for a dorm facility was among discussion.

"That's a campus decision where funding will be allocated," he explained. "We do have a lot of direct contact with the legislature, and that sounds like something that could be put into a bonding request."

While on the topic of fiscal capabilities, the issue of increasing the salaries of those in administrative roles at MNSCU was also discussed. Attendees asked Englund for the justification behind administrative salary increases when faculty members have been laid off or have taken a pay freeze in recent years.

"It's not fair and it's not equal," Englund empathetically responded. "I will vote against it (MnSCU administrative salary increases) if it comes up again. You have my word."

Issues of varying degrees of concern were presented at Monday's forum, and although a direct plan of action was not on the agenda, Englund assured attendees that changes within the system are imminent.

"We're here because we want to make things better," he said. "It's not perfect, but it has to get better."

"I hope to learn more about Minnesota West and Worthington and about the region," he added. "I want to learn what MnSCU can do to more efficiently serve the best interests of the students."

Other board members have been encouraged to attend various campuses as part of MnSCU's "Student First Initiative" to gain a broader sense of awareness of issues concerning students and faculty members across the state.

"We will come back and talk about our experiences across the college's campuses," Englund explained. "This is the first year we've had an initiative of this nature. Our goal is to learn from this as much from this experience as possible, and that is the only thing we're here to do right now."