Compass: Liberal Arts Approach to Higher Education

September 23, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski

– [Voiceover] The following
program is a production of pioneer public television. (upbeat music) (dramatic music) – Hello, and welcome to
compass, a new production from pioneer public television. I’m Les Heen, your
host for compass. This is a weekly discussion
of public policy on important issues facing
our viewing area. This week, I’ll look at the
future of higher education and the liberal arts
colleges in our viewing area, as well as a look
at private colleges. This will be a two part,
two week segment that will be furthered still next week. But first, we’ll have a
look at the University of Minnesota Morris,
and Jackie Johnson, speaking on why liberal
arts colleges are gaining ground with higher enrollment,
and what they’re doing to compete with state
schools in our region. Here’s a report from
pioneer’s Laura Kate Brasser. – [Voiceover] There’s a
struggle right now for liberal arts colleges in rural areas
to fill their halls and classrooms, due to the
opposing perspective that liberal arts degrees
are for the elite, and don’t prepare students
to join the work force. However, if you are
talking to Jackie Johnson, chancellor of the U of M Morris, you might get another story. – Our mission is entirely
undergraduate focused, and that is also the
case with the wonderful private liberal arts
colleges in this state, and so students have
an opportunity to get a broad education,
which is general education, to develop the skills, to
do that in a residential setting, where the whole
individual is really nurtured and mentored. Probably most students who
graduate from baccalaureate institutions across the
country major in liberal arts disciplines. Only a handful of students,
really, are able to complete their education at a
liberal arts college. – [Voiceover] It’s this
residential setting, but more so the size of the campus,
that often makes people question why should
they go to Morris? – One of the things that
I was concerned about when I first came to the
University of Minnesota Morris was an inclination to
be apologetic about where we reside, that oh, well, we’re in the middle of
nowhere, and who would want to come here? And I thought that’s
just so not true. We have to get past
that kind of barrier, and I think particularly for
students who are thinking about us, who are coming
from metropolitan areas, we have a wonderful alumna
who graduated from Morris with a major in economics,
went on to study at the London School of Economics. She’s from a suburb of
Minneapolis, and when she would talk to our prospective
students, she would say very honestly, my parents dragged
me, kicking and screaming, to visit the University
of Minnesota Morris. She said no way was I going
to go to school in this small town on the prairie,
it just wasn’t cool, and she said I arrived on
campus and couldn’t believe it. I was just so taken with the
faculty, and the students, and the staff. So it’s this
residential experience. And then because we’re
part of the University of Minnesota system, which
is the land grant system, in the state of Minnesota,
and because of how we’ve defined our mission, the
faculty at our institution are themselves
researchers and scholars, they want to work with
students in relatively small class settings, they want
to get to know students, and then they want to bring
students into their work and their research, and if
you think about preparation for the work force, or graduate
and professional school, or living in a community,
there is no better place to get that preparation. I’m biased, I know. But on a liberal
arts college campus. – [Voiceover] Another
argument in favor of liberal arts, according to Johnson,
is the scholarships and tuition help that
Morris provides. – In higher education,
there is the sticker price, and that can be daunting,
but then there is the price that students actually pay. So there are multiple sources
of funding that support people in their educational
endeavors, from federal funds, like Pell Grants,
that go to students who come from families with
a particular income level. There’s a state grant program. And then, in addition to
that, we have donor funded scholarships, just like
the private schools do. We have two really important competitive
merit scholarships, where we invite prospective
students to campus, who meet certain requirements,
and they spend a day on campus and they interview
with faculty and staff, they write an essay that’s
evaluated, and they compete for full tuition and about
a half tuition scholarship. All of those things go into
a formula that accounts for a tuition discount, because
our University of Minnesota tuition is not inexpensive. It is still an investment
that families are making, and so we’re working hard to
find ways to help students from a range of family
income backgrounds to be able to come to campus
and to do well there, and we’re very much like private
schools in that endeavor. We really have to find ways
to support people as they’re pursuing their educations,
because the cost is not inconsequential. So we also have the
Morris scholarship. There’s a stipend associated
with that scholarship, and if a student wins that
scholarship, they can spend this stipend, but not
until their second year, so that would be the first
time they could spend it, and they can spend it on a
value added kind of experience. – [Voiceover] It’s these
added experiences that help students find a place in a
community, no matter what community they are in. – In terms of higher education,
the special role that liberal arts colleges play
is that we serve students in an undergraduate focused,
residential setting, where students learn, really
have to be, part of the community, with the expectation
that every member of the community helps to
shape the community. So you really get the ability
to kind of tailor your out of classroom experiences
to match what you’re majoring in, maybe it’s
in biology, or philosophy, but you also get an
education that’s tied to living in a community, and
learning how to be a responsible member of a community
really allows for that full development and preparation,
I think, for continuing a life well lived in the future. (upbeat music) – With us now to talk about
private colleges in Minnesota is Paul Cerkvenik. And Paul is the president
of the Minnesota private college council. Paul, thanks for joining us. – Thanks for having me, Les. – So let’s start with
the Minnesota private
college council, because when people hear
that, they may not necessarily understand what private
colleges are, but in short, we’re talking about private,
largely well-known four year schools in
Minnesota, right? – That’s correct. The private college
associations are made up of 17 private, non-profit colleges
in Minnesota, all that have a commitment to a basic
liberal arts education. Schools like Concordia
College in Moorhead, Saint John’s and Saint
Ben’s near Saint Cloud. Gustavus, Hamline, St.
Thomas, McAllister, St. Olaf, and Carlton,
those kinds of schools. Think most Minnesotans are
quite familiar with them, and they’ve been around
for more than 100 years. Many go back as
far as 150 years. Schools that were founded
by immigrants, sometimes out of their faith tradition,
always with a commitment to helping their children
have an opportunity for high quality education. – Now they all have different
backgrounds, of course, and I think it’s interesting
that you’re talking about four year schools, because
they’re one of the more recent schools in this
category would be Bethany in Mankato, which many people
would remember as a two year institution, but now
is four year, and they’re a member as well, right? – That’s right. Our schools are all four
year schools granting bachelor’s degrees. About half of them also
grant graduate level degrees, degrees in, like a
Master’s degree in business administration, or public
administration, or Master’s degrees in fields like
healthcare, or education. So they do both
four year education, and education beyond
the four year degree. – When many people think
about private colleges, and of course one of the
things that comes up is affordability, because of
course, we’ve heard a lot of stories in the news the
last few years about what’s happening in affordability
for colleges, whether it’s private
colleges, or public colleges. So what are we seeing
right now in trends in the private colleges and how
private colleges are addressing this issue of affordability
in higher education? – Well affordability’s a
real concern, and investment in higher education
is expensive. I want to come back to
that, talk about the value, the pay off. But you might be interested
to know that over about the last 10 years, the net
price, the price students actually pay at our
college, after you take into account scholarships, has
been essentially flat, when adjusted for inflation. In other words, the real
price students pay has been really stable at our
colleges for a decade. – So as you look at it, I
know sometimes people would take a look at affordability
in terms of not only the stability, but also
as compared to, I know people used to say
it’s kind of like buying a new car, I remember there
was a saying of a higher education person I knew
about 30 years ago who said there was a point in time
where if you bought a new car, it was sort of like a
year at a private college, and you track that
through the years. So some of these things,
they’re increasing, but so are many other things in
life, was what his point was. – That’s right. One thing that’s really been
increasing at our college, Les, is financial aid
provided by the colleges. Today, about 95 percent of
the students that enroll in our colleges receive
financial aid from the institution that does
not have to be paid back. These are need based and
merit based scholarships that most students benefit from. In fact, the average
financial aid package at our colleges now is 19,000 dollars. So when you take into
account that financial aid package, which includes
sometimes a state grant or a federal Pell grant, as
well, the average net tuition that a student pays is
about 15,000 dollars. – So part of what happens,
I expect, then, is when you have students that come
in, they will look at private college, or public
college, and at the end of the day, for them it
comes down to looking at a couple sheets of paper,
couple different financial aid offers, perhaps several
offers, and say okay, how much am I going to pay out
of pocket when I get there? And so for the private college
councils, then, part of the goal, then, to say that you
end up looking comparable across all of those choices,
that that sort of helps people make their choice? – Yeah, I think our colleges
try to be very competitive in the market place, but we
also ask students to think about the value that they’re
going to get at a private college education. One of the important things
to consider in this equation is our four year
graduation rates. Our four year graduation rates
are the highest in the state, the highest in the Midwest,
and they’re currently ranked third in the nation. Graduating in four years is
really important, because that’s a way to keep the
total cost of college down. There’s good studies
that show that if you need to take a fifth year
or a sixth year to graduate, it’s actually cheaper to
be at a private college and graduate in four years
than six years at public institutions, and if you
take five or six years to graduate, the amount of
student debt you end up with is substantially greater. So that’s part of
the value question. It’s not just the price you
pay, but what are you going to get out of the education,
and are you going to be able to graduate in four year? – So is that a substantial
challenge for colleges in working with young students,
then, is to say okay, not just how much is it
for this year, but how much is it for four years, and
how much, if you have to take a fifth, and it
sounds like some of those calculations, in terms of
translating that to the end user, or the student, could
be a significant challenge. – Well, I think understanding the true cost of college
is important for families and students when they
make their decisions. The financial aid councilors
at our colleges work hard to help ensure that students
and families understand the price they’re really
going to pay, and plan carefully to be able to
pay that over four years, understanding that it’s
an important investment that’s going to
have a high pay off. – Now one of the things I
remember reading years ago about higher education is that
one of the most important, or significant, barriers,
let’s say, to people who’ve never had a family member
go to college before, is the fact that just that, no
one in their family’s ever gone to college before. And in Minnesota, as we look
at this, we may have lots of families where there’s
two, three, four generations of college attendance, but
let’s talk a little bit about sort of those
first and second year situations where no one
in the family’s ever been to college before. How does that affect the
ability of those families, and how does that affect
their experience in higher education? – Yeah, those students
come to college with less, what is sometimes called
college knowledge. They don’t have as much of an understanding about
how to navigate their way through college. It’s a very new experience,
and it’s an experience that they can’t look to
their parents or to older siblings to help understand. At our colleges, we do a
lot of work to help bridge that knowledge gap. Those students, probably,
are very good students, academically, but
living on your own, taking academic courses
at a much higher level, is all a challenge
for a student. And so at our colleges,
one of the things that is so distinctive
about our colleges, is that because of their small
size, students get a lot of personal attention. They can have close
relationships with
faculty members. We build important advising
models into our approach to education, so that
students who come with the ability to succeed, but
maybe not fully prepared for college, can find resources
that will help them persist and graduate on time. It’s very important
to college success. – Well and it strikes me
that there would be a number, sort of a list of criteria
that we’re talking about here, as people look at college
choices, because there’s not only one year
affordability, but there’s multi year affordability,
the affordability of
the entire degree, there is the support
that they’ll have
when they get there, and all of those play a role, but it also sounds like
another part, and we didn’t use the metric, but student
to faculty ratio. – Right. – Because you will see that,
if you’re looking at US News and World Report, and
whatever those rankings are. And I know there’s a lot
of controversy over the quality of those rankings,
and what they really mean, but some of those other
numbers generated by colleges also is a big thing, where
people are sitting down and choosing, that student
to faculty ratio is another important one that people
often look at, right? – That’s right, and
at our colleges, the majority of our classes
have 20 students or less in them, and so that
means you’re in a learning environment where you’re
talking to the professor every time you go to class,
you’re not in a large lecture hall with three,
four, 500 students, and you’re having a
lot of interaction. It’s not just the
professor talking at you. It’s a dialog between the
professor and the students, and among the students,
and that’s where real learning occurs. Students get to be really
engaged in the topics they’re studying. There’s a lot of evidence
that that makes for better learning outcomes, and
most importantly, it makes students very engaged
in their education. That’s part of the reason
why I think students persist and retain at a high rate
in our colleges, and why they graduate on time,
because they get very engaged in the learning opportunities. – One of the other things
I noticed about private colleges, at least when there
are clusters of colleges, whether it’s in a larger
city, or whether it’s in the twin cities, or whether
it’s a regional center, is that there are relationships
between the colleges so that people may enroll
in one college, but yet take classes in another. So tell me a little bit
about how that works, because that strikes me
as something that a lot of people wouldn’t even be
aware of when they first enroll in one college. – Well that’s a more recent development
in higher education, and I think that’s something
that’s driven by a desire to give students a wide range
of opportunities, but also to control college costs. Not everybody, if there’s three colleges within
a few miles of each other, it maybe doesn’t really make
sense that they each have a faculty to teach
Russian, for example. There’s not too many
students who might want to study Russian, but there’s
enough, and it’s an important subject to study, so maybe
one college has a department that teaches Russian, another
department has a college that teaches French, and
another school maybe teaches the classics, and the
students can have access to all three of those colleges,
when those partnerships and alliances are built. Those exist in the twin cities, the ACTC group is one. They exist in other places, up in the Concordia
Fargo-Moorhead area, Concordia, Mankato state… – [Les] Moorhead state. – Moorhead state, excuse me. And the North Dakota
colleges have a similar kind of a sharing arrangement
that is really a good partnership for students,
and helps pull down the cost of college. – And when you mentioned
the ACTC, I think that stood for the Associated, or Affiliated Colleges
of the Twin Cities. – The Associated Colleges
of the Twin Cities. That would be St. Thomas
and the University of St. Catherine, Hamline,
McAllister, and Augsburg. They actually, for many years,
had a bus that ran between those five colleges,
it was kind of famous. Public transportation has
become so good, and students are today are more mobile
on their own, so the bus doesn’t run anymore, but
the curriculum sharing is the same. Students at any one of those
colleges can take a class at any of the other
four colleges. – So as we talk about the
twin cities, and we talk about the regional centers, help me put Minnesota within the landscape of
the rest of the country. You mentioned a minute ago
that there’s a very high percentage of four
year degree completion, that that was something
of a leader for the private colleges. But what about the private
college landscape in Minnesota, as compared to
the rest of the country? Tell me about that. – Yeah, well I think in this work I meet with my
peers around the country, and other higher education
leaders around the country, and wherever I go, people
say to me oh, you’ve got a group of the best private
colleges in the nation. I’ve heard CEOs from Minnesota say that same thing, and if
you look at our colleges, there’s no question that’s true. As I said, we have among
the highest four year graduation rates in the
country, compared to other private colleges. This last year we
were ranked third. We have been probably
in the top three or four for a decade or
more, maybe longer. And I think we also have a
diversity of private colleges, and that’s another strength. Our colleges serve
traditional students, the 18 to 22 year olds who are
looking for a residential campus experience. We also serve non traditional
students, 25 and older, people who started a college
education but didn’t complete, and now want to come back. We serve students in
graduate programs. There’s a growing demand
for graduate level education in many fields, and our
colleges have done that. They’re very entrepreneurial. They are paying attention
to what students want, and what employers want, and they are changing
with society, and keeping up to the
needs of students. That makes them, I think,
leaders nationally. – You mentioned corporations,
and corporate leaders, and their role in this,
which makes me wonder about after the four year degree. Because of course a lot of
people pay attention and say okay, what happens
when you get out? What’s the job market like? What’s the relationship? So for private colleges of
Minnesota, what is it like when their graduates are
going into the world? What are we seeing? – Well first of all, your
viewers might be interested to know about 20 percent
of our students go on to graduate level education,
right after they graduate. For those that don’t, nearly
all of them are employed within one year of graduation. The statistics are very high. They vary a little bit
from college to college. Colleges track these things
individually themselves, but in the high 90 percent
have a job within one year of graduation. We’re very proud of
that, and our colleges, a part of what they do is not
just give a person a degree, but they encourage experiential
learning opportunities, internships, study abroad,
undergraduate research projects. These are all things
that employers value. They want a student who
not only has gotten a good academic education, but has
had some experience outside of college in the world. Our colleges invest a
lot in those experiences. They also invest a lot
in career services. They have staff who are
helping students sort out their career plans, so that
while they’re getting an education, they’re thinking
about what kind of work and career they want to
have, and what opportunities are out there for them, so
that they can find a job once they graduate. – Yeah, so it sounds like,
again, and of course, when you look at sort of
concentrations of graduates, and where they are, there’s
also the alumni piece that comes in, where
there’s alumnis as mentors, alumni members, excuse me,
as internship advisors, those kinds of things. So I expect you see a
lot of that, as well. – Great question. I think one of the secret
benefits of a private college education is the alumni
networks our colleges cultivate. Our alumni are very loyal to
the colleges they attended, and to the students that
are coming after them. They are donors, helping
hold down the cost of college for students today, and
they’re interested in meeting those students,
helping them network, helping them find
jobs, mentor them, offer them internship
opportunities in
their businesses. That makes a big difference
for a student who’s 22 and who is just getting
a start in the world. – One of the things I
was saying about, too, one of the things that comes
up for rural communities, for example, is the idea
that we’re always exporting young people, we’re sending
them off, do they come back? But my sense is that with a
lot of the Minnesota private college, or for that matter,
public college, that a great many of the students
who go through these institutions end up staying
in Minnesota, perhaps not in their home town, but
there’s a fair amount of them staying in Minnesota. Is that true? – That’s right. About 70 percent of our
graduates, regardless of where they came from, stay in
Minnesota after graduation. That’s a good thing
for Minnesota, and I think they stay because they develop deep attachments
while they’re here, educationally, that they value. And that’s true of kids
even who come from outside of Minnesota. – Well I expect a fairly
common pattern for a number of them is to go to graduate
school somewhere else, and then come back. So you may see this two,
three, four years away, and then back. Is that one of the
things you see? – I think that’s also
very common, yes. They might pursue a graduate
level education outside of Minnesota, but having
in mind that they’re coming back here to teach, or
to work in business, or to practice law, or
whatever they decide to do. – Well as we close this
out, let’s give the viewers some ideas of additional
resources, or places they can go to. I suppose whatever college
they’re interested in, that’s a great place to
start, right, just put in the college and go look at
that particular college. Is that the best way
for people to look? – Yes, especially for
students and families, reach out to any
of our colleges, take a tour. I would encourage all young
students to tour colleges. Tour a range of colleges. It’s really important that
a student find the college that is the right fit for them. That’s where you get
the most success. When you’re in a college
environment that you feel is the right one for you. And then I would say turn to our website, MN
private colleges dot org, we have many resources for
students and families there, and I would also say look at
the websites of the colleges. There’s so much to learn at
any of our college’s websites. – Well with that, we
have to close this up. Paul Cerkvenik, private
college council. Thanks for being with us. – Les, thank you. It’s been a pleasure. – Yeah. That’s it for this
week on compass. Join us next week as we
continue a look at the future of higher education. It will have a discussion
with some local input from the state schools and two
year colleges in the region. Thanks for watching. (upbeat music)