Column: In light of possible cuts, think about college’s importance

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 5, 2001

In Frank Cappra’s classic movie &uot;It’s A Wonderful Life,&uot; an angel helps George Bailey, a despairingly frustrated man, by showing him the profoundly positive impact he had on his community.

Monday, March 05, 2001

In Frank Cappra’s classic movie &uot;It’s A Wonderful Life,&uot; an angel helps George Bailey, a despairingly frustrated man, by showing him the profoundly positive impact he had on his community. George Bailey is given a gift: He can see what the world would be like if he had never lived. As George learns, it’s easy to take our life for granted and overlook how we directly affect the world around us.

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Governor Jesse Ventura’s recent state budget proposal for higher education essentially cuts programs and reduces access to higher education opportunities throughout the state. In light of this, Riverland will likely be faced with many challenges including raising tuition, closing programs and cutting staff, freezing program expansions and enhancements and instituting hiring caps. These possible outcomes lead me to wonder what would life in our state be like without Minnesota State Colleges and Universities? What impact do MnSCU and Riverland have on the quality of life in our communities?

MnSCU’s 53 campuses are located across the state. Each year our colleges and universities produce 27,000 graduates – about four times as many as the University of Minnesota. More than 80 percent of our graduates stay in Minnesota to work or continue their education. Would these people still be here living and working in our communities if we weren’t here to educate them?

According to a 1998 study by Anton & Associates, Inc., every dollar of state spending on MnSCU generates a return of $5.75. Our graduates earn higher salaries – and pay more in taxes – because of their college educations. They are contributing to our healthy economy, and to our $3 billion surplus. If they were gone, would there be such a large surplus?

MnSCU enrollment has grown 10 percent over the last two years. On an annual basis we serve 216,000 students in credit courses. Statewide, one of every two students attending college in Minnesota attends a MnSCU institution. In addition, we provide training to 6,000 businesses and 148,000 employees around the state. When you add in another 100,000 or so students in continuing education, it means that close to a half million people per year benefit from MnSCU programs. Who would serve these people without MnSCU?

In our region, Riverland’s annual enrollment for credit-based courses is 4,772, and our annual non-credit course registrations are 6,047. This represents a significant portion of the population. If Riverland was unable to provide viable educational and personal development opportunities for these individuals would they still live in our region?

MnSCU graduates make up 50 percent of all new teachers in the state, 86 percent of all new nurses, 56 percent of all information technology workers and 90 percent of all new police officers. From where would these skilled workers come if we weren’t here?

On a local level, without Riverland who would train people to program our computers and maintain our electronic technology? Who would provide our nursing care, take our x-rays and rehabilitate our injuries? Who would keep our streets safe and manufacture our tools? Who would service and maintain our machines, cars, trucks and farm equipment? Who would build and wire our homes with electricity, cut our hair, drive our trucks and transport our goods? Who would run our offices, balance our accounts, meet human services needs, train our supervisors, teach foreign languages and broadcast our news?

Riverland has had, and will continue to have, a profoundly positive impact on our region. Riverland not only serves the students of this area, we serve the communities. We play a major role in stimulating economic development and cultural vitality in the region. Not only do we provide a more knowledgeable and skilled workforce, we provide citizens prepared to participate in a diverse society and willing to give their time and energy to make better communities and a better world.

We want to continue to provide high-quality educational programs for the professions and occupations that our region needs. But under the Governor’s budget proposal, these goals will go unmet.

Our legislators need to hear from their constituents that, indeed, it is a wonderful life because of because of MnSCU and Riverland Community College. Legislators need to hear that in addition to a tax rebate, the voters want to invest in the future of their region and their state by investing in quality public higher education.

Dr. Gary Rhodes is president of Riverland Community College.