The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 20, 2009

Our View: We can build on higher ed assets

As area colleges swing into the new year, the greater Mankato communities should consider the valuable assets they offer for community problem-solving.

The higher education assets are substantial and diverse in the Mankato region. We have a major public university offering graduate degrees and applied research; we have a community college as a gateway to workforce development and job creation. We have the highly educated personnel of private liberal arts colleges who focus on developing critical thinkers. We have technical and business colleges that sharpen their focus on training for the future workforce.

At whatever level consumers wish to be educated, there’s a local option matching that desire.

Every institution, whether it be Minnesota State University, Gustavus Adolphus, South Central College or Rasmussen, has connections to the community and local employers that assist those employers and enhance the general skill of the local workforce.

What we must realize is we’ve probably only scratched the surface on that kind of partnership.

MSU President Richard Davenport alluded to some of these connections in his annual convocation.

One of the MSU strategic goals for the year ahead was to “engage in innovative research that finds real solutions to real problems.”

These kind of ideas can bring about some of the easiest partnerships that foster some of the most innovative and cost-effective solutions. As MSU environmental studies students research regional issues, they offer the opportunity to share this information with county environmental services departments. If those departments can’t find the resources to map all the farmland buffer strips along streams in Blue Earth County, maybe MSU students could handle it in a practicum class. Mechatronics students at SCC could help industry solve a manufacturing efficiency issue.

The only thing holding us back from developing hundreds of partnerships like this with the assets we have in the community is our willingness to do it, or the political will on the part of local government to take some risks.

In fact, if we don’t take the lead on these partnerships and do it for ourselves, we’ll be forced to do it under less than ideal circumstances.

We’ve seen the havoc wreaked on local governments by cuts to local government aid. We’re seeing an aging population that will need more services to be paid for by a smaller, less prosperous, and perhaps, less generous younger generation.

The assets are in place for these kind of partnerships. Greater Mankato, as a higher education hub, has more potential than many other areas. We must ask ourselves: Are we willing to take the risks necessary to reach our potential?