The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 23, 2013

Beginnings, endings at MSU MOVE-IN

Class of 2017 unpacks

By Dan Linehan dlinehan@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — MANKATO — Deb Ulrich of Norwood admitted she was a little bit emotional on move-in day. She was, after all, sending her youngest child, Jayme, off to college.

On Thursday afternoon, across the street from the Julia A. Sears Residence Community, Deb and two of her three children were packing a cart high with Jayme’s stuff.

“I don’t think this is going to work, girls,” Deb said of the bulging cart. But the girls insisted it would stay upright, and moved on out.

About nine in 10 first-year students live on campus or university-managed apartments, and most of them moved in Thursday. The class of 2017 is expected to be MSU’s largest ever, a bit bigger than last year’s cohort of 2,311. The university has a goal of increasing enrollment by 1.5 percent each year through 2017.

In a nearby parking lot, the Miller family loaded the last of daughter Geena’s possessions into a cart. The Zumbrota woman is excited about starting class and playing on the volleyball and basketball club teams. She said she picked MSU for its pre-professional occupational therapy program and because the campus was pretty.

It’s only 90 minutes away from home, her mother, Lisa, added. Geena is her youngest child, too, and it looks like her absence hasn’t yet sunk in.

“Ask me when we leave,” Lisa said, laughing. The finality of it, in other words, might not hit her until she and her husband, John, pull out of the parking lot. Or maybe not until they get home.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself,” Lisa said.

About 2,800 students live on campus, a number mostly unchanged from last year. There are about 60 students living in temporary housing — a lounge converted into a dorm, that sort of thing — and waiting to move into permanent space.

Unlike some other families, it looked like first-year student Allison Socha was the one who was a little nervous about leaving the family while her mother, Carol Johnson, was excited for her.

The dental hygiene student from the small Wisconsin town of Shell Lake said MSU felt comfortable, “like home.” The campus feels cloistered, and her dorm surrounded by forest, she said.

Though the university doesn’t yet have final statistics for this year’s new students, if they are anything like last year the group will be slightly female (52 percent last year) and mostly white (79 percent). There are 285 new international students enrolled now, a record high, and the university expects more than 300 when everyone is counted.

Jamie Rollins, a junior nursing student from Northfield, enjoyed the Crawford Residence Community so much during her first two years that she decided to return. The addition of air conditioning during a renovation last year added to that attachment.

“So far, it’s been pretty good,” she said.

The students also got an unlikely hand from Larry Pogemiller, the director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. He helped some students move in, then had lunch with about a half-dozen student leaders and MSU officials.

He asked the students what they’re looking for from the state this year, and heard from 28-year-old senior Mike Ramirez that a large maintenance allocation would be nice. Keeping the buildings warm and covered is a priority, in other words.

Pogemiller didn’t hit the political messaging too hard, but the Democratic-controlled government’s talking point on higher education this year was $250 million in increased spending. Of that, $89 million went toward a tuition freeze for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. A year of in-state tuition at MSU, fees included, costs $7557.78.

Pogemiller praised the freeze, but also called it a “short-term” solution. The real answer will come from competitive pressure on universities to keep tuition low, combined with state support for students who can’t afford college.

The affordability of college is still a sore subject, of course, especially when students hear stories of how little it cost for their parents.

“I try not to talk about that any more around students,” Pogemiller said.