The core problem facing the University is
maintaining a superior quality of education at a price that students can
afford, Kaler said, noting that the upward pressure on tuition caused by
declining state aid makes this particularly difficult. President Kaler
made this point clearly and frequently during his conversation.
The University's state appropriation, adjusted
for inflation, is $127.5 million less this academic year than it was in
1997, even though the U's enrollment is up, its technology costs are up,
and employee health care costs are up.
As well, the economic impact the University
provides to the state is $8.6 billion annually. The state's return on its
investment is breathtaking: for every dollar the state invests in the U,
the University infuses the state economy with $13.20 ... a 13:1 rate of
"When people complain about tuition, I tell them
to talk to legislators," Kaler said.
When asked about efficiency at the University,
Kaler said that the ratio of student tuition to actual costs incurred by
the University has decreased 12 percent over the past 10 years.
Nonetheless, two-thirds of University students
carry debt after graduation. The average debt load for those students is
Some debt is reasonable and should be accepted
as an investment in oneself, Kaler argued. There is great value to earning
a college degree from an excellent university. That value is seen in being
a thoughtful and productive citizen, in helping to solve problems in one's
life or community, and, studies show, in future earnings and career
The value proposition is clear: the ratio of
excellence to cost equals value. The University of Minnesota is a great
value in the higher education marketplace.
But, Kaler noted, in today's economy the real
frustration people feel is when students graduate with a great and
rigorously achieved degree, but with debt, and then can't find a job.
Target areas in which to excel.
To deliver on the vision to be a top university,
Kaler contends, the University needs to target its efforts: "We need to
look at competencies and see what we are really good at."
"The Medical School should be one of those areas
in which we excel. The Medical School needs to return to the level it
reached 20 years ago. That requires increased funding, which can be
achieved by increasing the flow of clinical dollars."
The Carlson School of Management is poised to
move into the very top ranks of business schools nationally. The Twin
Cities are home to 20 Fortune 500 companies - the highest number per
capita of any state in the United States. The regents recently approved a
differentiated tuition structure that will enable the business school to
thrive financially and compete in recruiting.
The medical device industry began here, Kaler
noted. Recently, 1,200 leaders of the medical device industry met on the
University campus to discuss breakthroughs in this important global
industry. This is just one indication of how the University's research and
outreach missions intersect, Kaler said.
The University's role as the state's only
comprehensive research institution drives discoveries that are translated
into commercial opportunities and then onto the marketplace. The U
research expertise helps to develop a talented and well-trained workforce
for many industries in the state. And the research enables the U and
private industry to partner. Add that all up, and one must conclude as
well that the University also helps to improve the lives and health of
countless people around the world.
The University is also among the national
leaders in nanotechnology. This ranking is evidenced in part by the
University's commitment to the construction of its new $93 million center
for physics and nanotechnology. Research and development in this area mean
great opportunities for advancing the state's and nation's manufacturing,
biomedical, and high-tech communities.
He added that the Twin Cities has the highest
concentration of food expertise in the world, with companies like General
Mills and Cargill located here. The University complements private
industry with important research centers, such as Center for Animal Health
and Food Safety, and the National Center for Food Protection and Defense,
which is supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"We are the Silicon Valley of the food
industry," he said.
The University of Minnesota does particularly
well in its research efforts, Kaler said, and comes in eighth in the
nation among public universities for the amount of sponsored research it
performs. Over the past five years, the University's growth rate in
research funding is the fourth best among public universities in the
All of these areas, and others with similar
Minnesota connections and growth potential, can become a foundation for
national and world leadership for the University and the state's economy.
With a rigorous undergraduate experience and world-class graduate and
professional school offerings, the University produces the thought leaders
of tomorrow, he said, adding that the U is at the heart of the state's
talent supply chain, developing employees for the jobs of today, tomorrow,
and the day after tomorrow.
Cultivate excellence from within.
Excellence can also be cultivated, Kaler said,
as demonstrated by the University's nationally recognized chemical
engineering department. He received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from
the U in 1982. The success of this department was certainly not
pre-ordained in a state with virtually no chemical engineering presence.
"If you want a forest, plant trees," he said.
The chemical engineering department had
visionary leadership that hired non-traditional faculty, Kaler said, that
came in with different perspectives and brought a heavily mathematical and
analytical approach to the field. They did pioneering work in the chemical
engineering field that led to the University's prominence in this area.
The role of technology in the University's
A participant asked Dr. Kaler whether he saw
technology playing a transformative role in the near future. The
questioner suggested that historically after every major change in
technology, education changed in fundamental ways. We're in a period of
major change now. Is education in a position like "old media", as
technological developments might portend the demise of newspapers?
The future of learning is going to be blended,
Kaler responded. "As long as we have young people turning 18 we will need
brick and mortar - places for them to gather, to mingle, to grow into
independent adults. What will certainly change is what goes on at that
brick and mortar institution."
Today, the quality of online instruction within
the University system wide is highly variable, and he would rather see
technology selectively merged with in-person, face-to-face learning.
In order to facilitate the introduction of
effective technology, Kaler believes that the University needs to provide
space and time for people to innovate within the teaching environment. It
needs to be made an institutional priority, including in the allocation of
"You'll see a rapid evolution in how people
teach as younger people come into the University teaching ranks," he
With that in mind, he recently announced to the
faculty an initiative to use technology to improve teaching and learning.
He has established a process to request proposals from faculty on all of
the U's five campuses for innovative educational initiatives that will
advance teaching and learning.
"I want our best thoughts about how to use
modern tools to enable student success, and I want to pilot those ideas,
adopt what works and spread it across our campuses," he said. "I would
like to see a special focus on electronic textbooks as a way to reduce
costs to students."
The University of Minnesota's role is distinct
Kaler described the mission of the University as
rigorous undergraduate teaching and learning, educating graduate students
and professionals, and carrying out its responsibilities as a land-grant
The challenge is to prevent mission creep, he
said - there is no need to duplicate across the University of Minnesota
and MNSCU systems.
The University is producing the leaders of
tomorrow, trained to communicate well, problem solve, work in teams and be
prepared for the jobs of today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.
At the same time, the University and MnSCU have
more than 200 ongoing partnerships right now, and the University accepts
about 1,300 MnSCU transfer students every academic year. The two systems
cooperate in many ways.
Moving away from state funding has serious
A participant asked Kaler whether the University
of Minnesota could move toward the University of Michigan model of
high-tuition funding a high-quality, world-class university. There, the
public funds only 10 percent of the schools operations, and students and
grants fund the rest.
They are able to do this by bringing more than
40 percent of their incoming students from out of state, Kaler asserted,
and charging them high out-of-state tuition. That's not the model
Minnesota has chosen to follow. Seventy percent of students at the
University of Minnesota are state residents. The University here is very
much a Minnesota-based institution - and unless the University began
charging twice its present tuition it couldn't make the Michigan model
Besides, the state of Michigan also has Michigan
State, which is its land-grant institution. We are Minnesota's land-grant
university, and with all the related missions of a land-grant: a
commitment to agriculture - including veterinary medicine - and to
statewide community outreach and engagement via Extension and research
We at Minnesota do a lot outside of the core
educational mission that relies on state support. Extension is a good
example. If the state fails to provide adequate funding, it deeply affects
our broad and diverse land-grant mission and our ability to support it.