Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College,
and Paul Cerkvenik, president, Minnesota Private College Council
Are Minnesota’s private colleges
diamonds in our back yard?
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Competitiveness
Interview June 13, 2014
John Adams, Paul Cerkvenik,
Curt Johnson, Lars Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Brian Rosenberg, Dana Schroeder, Clarence
Shallbetter. By phone: Janis Clay.
Paul Cerkvenik has been
president of the Minnesota Private College Council since 2009. He
served as a member of the Council's board of directors from 1997 to
2003 and from 2006 to 2009 and chaired its Public Policy committee.
Previously, Cerkvenik was an attorney in private practice in Virginia,
Minn. He was born and raised on the Iron Range and moved back there to
practice law in 1996. Prior to that, he worked as a law clerk at
Faegre and Benson and with the Hon. Robert G. Renner on the Minnesota
Federal District Court.
Before earning his law degree, he worked in
politics, including serving as legislative director for three Speakers
of the Minnesota House of Representatives and as researcher for the
Democratic Study Group in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Cerkvenik holds a B.S. degree from St.
John's University and a J.D. degree from the University of Minnesota.
Brian Rosenberg began his tenure as the
16th president of Macalester College in August 2003. He
champions the liberal arts college in the United States: "The liberal
arts model rests on a belief in the transformative power of ideas, the
necessity of collaborative action for the common good and the
importance of individual self-determination."
Prior to becoming president of Macalester,
Rosenberg was dean of the faculty and English professor at Lawrence
University in Appleton, Wisc. He served as English professor and chair
of the English Department at Allegheny College in Meadville, Penn.,
from 1983 to 1998. He is a member of the Itasca Project, an alliance
of more than 50 leaders from the private, government and social
sectors in Minnesota, whose goal is improving economic competitiveness
and quality of life within the state.
A native of New York City, he received a
B.A. from Cornell University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia
According to Paul Cerkvenik of
the Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC), the major private,
nonprofit liberal arts colleges in Minnesota have a large-scale
collective economic and civic impact in the state. The 17 MPCC member
colleges enroll 59,000 students and produce about 29 percent of the
bachelor's degrees and 41 percent of the master's level degrees
granted annually in Minnesota. Cerkvenik points out that the MPCC
colleges employ more than 13,500 Minnesotans and add $1.4 billion in
operating and capital spending to the state's economy every year.
Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester
College, believes Minnesota is fortunate and more competitive because
it has a diverse higher education system, including public
institutions and the private liberal arts colleges. He says the
private colleges get exceptional outcomes from a very small public
investment. He states that the greatest inefficiency in American
higher education is the failure of students to complete school, noting
that 65 percent of MPCC colleges' first-time, full-time students
graduate in four years, compared with much lower rates at the
University of Minnesota and at the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) four-year institutions.
According to Rosenberg, the private liberal
arts colleges need to do a better job of connecting education to
vocation. He maintains that the colleges' central mission, though, is
to teach students to write well, speak cogently, thing critically, be
creative, work effectively in teams and be adaptive to change.
Cerkvenik points out that the financial and business model of private
colleges is as challenged as the public sector. Rosenberg adds that
the only way to have a dramatic effect on the cost side in higher
education is to fire people or reduce the workforce in other ways,
like not replacing positions.
The Minnesota Private College
Council (MPCC) has 17 member schools, all private, nonprofit schools
that are substantially liberal arts in character: Augsburg College;
Bethany Lutheran College; Bethel University; Carleton College; College
of Saint Benedict; College of St. Scholastica; Concordia College,
Moorhead; Concordia College, St. Paul; Gustavus Adolphus College;
Hamline University; Macalester College; Minneapolis College of Art and
Design; Saint John's University; Saint Mary's University of Minnesota;
St. Catherine University; St. Olaf College; and University of St.
These 17 colleges accounted for 84 percent
of the 2012-2013 graduate and undergraduate enrollment in all private,
nonprofit higher education institutions in Minnesota. The figure is 83
percent for just undergraduate enrollment.
The 17 member colleges and universities of the Minnesota Private
College Council, all private liberal arts schools, have a large-scale
collective economic and civic impact in Minnesota.
According to Paul Cerkvenik of the
Minnesota Private College Council (MPCC), the schools make an
important contribution to the state's economyand to buildinghuman
capital in Minnesota.
The 17 MPCC schools enroll 59,000 students.
That figure is close to the enrollment at the University of
Minnesota (68,000) or to the four-year student enrollment (67,000) in
the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU). Nearly
three-quarters (42,500) of these MPCC students are undergraduates,
while 16,500 are graduate students.
These private colleges produce about 29
percent of the bachelor's degrees granted annually in Minnesota.
Cerkvenik said the member schools produce a disproportionate share of
bachelor's degrees in the state in some key fields of study: 52
percent in physical sciences, 29 percent of STEM degrees (science,
technology, engineering and math), 38 percent in foreign languages, 36
percent in biological sciences, 35 percent in health professions, 33
percent in math and statistics, and 30 percent in business.
The member schools produce 41 percent of the
master's level degrees granted each year in the state. Many of
these degrees focus on professional areas, such as business, law,
teaching, health professions, public administration and computer
Although they play a major role in higher
education in Minnesota, private colleges receive no direct operating
support from the State of Minnesota and students at MPCC colleges
benefit from only three percent of all state spending on higher
Undergraduate students in the MPCC colleges
have a diverse profile, both in race and income:
70 percent are from Minnesota;
28 percent are from families with incomes under $50,000,
comparable to the state's public institutions;
20 percent are first-generation college students;
18 percent are students of color, the same as at the U of M and
slightly higher than the four-year MnSCU colleges. This mirrors the
share of high school graduates of color in Minnesota.
Enrollment of new freshmen of color has increased 114 percent in
the last 10 years, while enrollment of new white students has
declined nine percent.
34 percent of Minnesota resident students get a need-based state
grant, a share that is higher than either the U of M or MnSCU
27 percent get a Pell Grant, compared to 20
percent at the U of M and 29 percent at four-year MnSCU colleges.
The private college sector has high
graduation rates: 65 percent of MPCC colleges' first-time,
full-time students graduate in four years. Cerkvenik said that is
the highest graduation rate of any postsecondary sector in Minnesota
or the Midwest and ranks fourth nationally among private colleges
compared state to state.
Financial aid is making private colleges as
affordable as possible for as many students as possible. According
to Cerkvenik, 90 percent of first-time, full-time students at the MPCC
colleges get some financial aid that does not have to be paid back.
The schools award $460 million annually in institutional aid for
scholarships. That compares to $40 million the students receive from
the state grant program and $45 million they receive from federal Pell
Thanks to financial aid, Cerkvenik said, the
average net tuition for first-year students at MPCC colleges is
$14,469, about 43 percent of the average published price. Financial
aid, then, covers an average of about 57 percent of the cost of
tuition. He noted that the first-year net tuition adjusted for
inflation has been essentially flat since 2004-2005.
The average debt for four-year graduates of
the MPCC schools is $32,000. Cerkvenik said 28 percent of MPCC
students graduate with no debt. These figures are comparable to the
averages for four-year graduates of Minnesota's public colleges and
universities, who have average debt of $30,000, with 30 percent of
students graduating without debt.
Private liberal arts colleges contribute
significantly to Minnesota's economy. According to Cerkvenik, the
MPCC colleges employ more than 13,500 Minnesotans, making those
colleges collectively the ninth largest private-sector employer in the
state. The colleges add $1.4 billion in operating and capital spending
to the state's economy every year.
The private liberal arts colleges serve as a
talent magnet for the state. Cerkvenik said 30 percent of the
students at MPCC schools are from outside Minnesota. Each year,
private colleges enroll more new freshman from outside Minnesota than
either the U of M or the MnSCU four-year colleges. After graduation,
68 percent of the MPCC graduates stay in Minnesota, regardless of
where they came from. "Our schools are helping bring people here and
they're staying in significant numbers," he said. "And, because our
schools offer a different education option from the publics in
Minnesota, we also help keep our own talented high school graduates
here in Minnesota."
MPCC schools are leaders in global
education. Cerkvenik said more than half of all Minnesota
undergraduate students who have a study-abroad experience in college
are enrolled in these private colleges. About 40 percent of new
undergraduate international students in Minnesota are enrolled in MPCC
These private liberal arts colleges graduate
many students who go on to pursue advanced degrees. According to
Cerkvenik, 22 percent of graduates of MPCC schools pursue advanced
degrees immediately upon receiving their bachelor's degrees. These
colleges play a key role in Ph.D. degree production, graduating 52
percent of the students who earn their undergraduate degrees in
Minnesota and then go on to earn a Ph.D. anywhere in the nation. And
he noted that one analysis showed that one in eight students in the U
of M's graduate and professional programs came from MPCC colleges.
Minnesota is fortunate to have a diverse
higher education system and the private, nonprofit colleges are doing
an enormous service to the state. According to Brian Rosenberg,
president of Macalester College, Minnesota students are distributed
reasonably equally at the undergraduate level among the U of M, the
four-year MnSCU schools and the private colleges. "That is not true in
every state," he said. For example, he noted, the University of
Wisconsin is very dominant in that state. One of the reasons Minnesota
is a more thriving state is that Minnesota has a more diverse and
thriving higher education system, he said.
"The variety of educational opportunities in
Minnesota really benefits our students, Rosenberg said. "It
particularly benefits the public good, because you get the most bang
for your public dollar out of the privates. The amount of public money
that goes into private colleges is a teaspoon, compared to the flood
of money that goes into the MnSCU system and the University of
Minnesota." Rosenberg said the private colleges get the outcomes
described earlier at "a very, very, very small public investment."
The single greatest inefficiency in American
higher education is the failure of students to complete school on
time. While 65 percent of MPCC colleges' first-time, full-time
students graduate in four years, Rosenberg said that in some of the
higher education systems in Minnesota, the rate of students who don't
complete in four years is "shockingly high." He said in the MnSCU
system, more than 70 percent of students don't finish in four years.
"That is an enormous inefficiency in the system," he said. "Even at
the University of Minnesota, the percentage of students who either
don't finish or don't finish on time is very, very high."
When you look at the cost of college, you
can't just look at the sticker price or the actual price a student
pays, you must look at the opportunity cost. "If a student isn't
graduating or is taking a lot longer to graduate," Rosenberg said,
"there is a real economic cost to the individual and to the state."
The biggest risk to Minnesota's
competitiveness is complacency. "There's a lot about this state
that is really, really good," Rosenberg said.
The unemployment rate in Minnesota is below the national
average. The Twin Cities in particular has one of the lowest
unemployment rates of any metro area in the country.
The education levels in Minnesota are among the highest in the
country. Collectively, our K-12 students perform better than in many
other states. The quality of education is considered to be very
But there are weaknesses, looking out 10, 20
Our K-12 system has one of the highest race-based achievement
gaps in the country.
Rosenberg said the state is becoming increasingly diverse. If that
gap persists, he said, we will no longer be among the most educated
states in the country. "That poses a direct threat to our economic
competitiveness," he said. "Our current employers won't be able to
hire the educated workers they need and the employers who are
thinking about moving to Minnesota won't move here, because we won't
have that educated workforce. They don't come for the weather; they
come for the workforce."
Although the trend has been somewhat reversed in the last couple
of years, for 12 years there was a steady decline in public funding
for higher education in Minnesota.
"We were approaching the
bottom quartile nationally," Rosenberg said. Student debt is
directly correlated with the level of public support, he added.
Minnesota is dramatically underinvesting in its transportation
system, Rosenberg said.
"We're not maintaining our current
transportation infrastructure," he said. "Transportation funding is
stalled at the Legislature and we're not investing in the future."
"There's a lot that's great right now in
Minnesota," Rosenberg continued. "But if we just expect it'll stay
great, we're making a big mistake." He said Minnesota's business
leaders understand that economic disparities, education and
transportation are critical to the long-term futures of their
businesses and of the state.
Employers are not necessarily looking for
people with specific technical skills, as the media portray, but for
"the educated person." An interviewer said employers are looking
for people who can think critically, who can solve problems, who can
work collaboratively. "Those are all things that liberal arts colleges
say they're about," he said.
Cerkvenik quoted an executive of a major
Minnesota corporation, who said, "We used to hire for skills and fire
for character. Now we hire for character and train people for what we
want them to do." "The public does not get that," the interviewer
"The truth lies somewhere in-between,"
The Itasca Project's higher education task
force is trying to bring what employers need and what schools offer
into better alignment. "Colleges are not so good at talking to
employers," Rosenberg said. "There has been too much of an ivory-tower
attitude toward that. Employers are not reaching out to us to tell us
what they need, either. Itasca is trying to facilitate those
He said it's difficult to try to predict
what the job market will look like in 10 years, because it will look
very different. "The most useful thing is to ask what skills employers
want in an educated workforce," Rosenberg said. "I would hope
employers would do better in the area of training. If they would
invest a little time in training, they could fill those jobs."
Private colleges need to do a better job of
connecting education to vocation. An interviewer said that in the
last 40 years, things have changed, so that now the world is expected
to respond to the individualistic tastes and outlook of kids, instead
of the other way around. "There's a partially irreconcilable
difference between what the kid thinks the world is all about and what
the employer thinks the world is all about," he said. "How do the
private colleges reconcile the supply side, what the schools and the
faculty think they ought to provide, with what society thinks ought to
"We haven't done as good a job at this as we
need to," Rosenberg said, "particularly in what I perceive as the most
challenging economic climate for new college graduates in my lifetime.
The old model of colleges like Macalester not really thinking about
this doesn't work. We need to do a better job of connecting education
"That's not our only responsibility,
though," he said. "A college education should also prepare students to
be educated citizens, to be civically engaged, and to live richer
lives. But vocation is one of our responsibilities. Some of the
responsibility rests with us to make the pathways easier and clearer."
The well-rounded education model of
Minnesota's private colleges has proven to be a good investment for
students. Rosenberg said the fundamental premise of a liberal arts
education is to impart students with a certain set of skills and
qualities of mind that will serve them well over the course of a
professional lifetime, during which they'll change jobs six or seven
times. "Our education is predicated on the assumption," he said, "that
the best thing we can do is to teach students to write well, to speak
cogently, to think critically, to be creative, to work effectively in
teams, to be adaptive to change. The data support that that works." He
said by the time graduates are in their 30s, the investment in this
type of education has paid off financially.
Cerkvenik said one change he sees is that
employers now place a premium on what kinds of experiential learning
students have acquired in colleges. "All of our colleges are building
that into their curriculums now," he said. "That is not a simple
The financial and business model of private
colleges is as challenged as the public sector. An interviewer
asked what combination of threats and opportunities private colleges
see looking forward. "Published tuitions are rising," Cerkvenik said.
"Colleges are doing everything they can to keep net tuitions flat. To
do that, you have to increase financial aid, which means you must cut
spending in all other areas. That affects the ability to deliver a
quality education. It's a very difficult economic problem. Until the
economy has the capacity to invest more in education, all of higher
education will be squeezed. We're in a tight economic vice right now."
Rosenberg said the financial model worries
him. First-year net tuition has not gone up at all, because financial
aid has grown. But only Macalester and Carlton are able to meet the
full financial need of every student they admit, he said.
"Essentially, we're all discounting our product by more than 50
percent," he said. "That's a lot and it's growing. That's putting
enormous financial pressure on the system."
The only way to have a dramatic effect on
the cost side in higher education is to fire people or reduce the
workforce in other ways, like not replacing positions. Rosenberg
noted that two-thirds of Macalester's expenses go to pay people and 80
percent of people working in higher education have college degrees.
"We suffer from cost disease," he said. "As the cost of hiring
educated workers has gone up, our costs have gone up, but we haven't
realized efficiencies." He likened higher education to the music
industry, where you still need four musicians to play in a string
quartet. But the cost of hiring those musicians has gone up, which is
why symphony orchestras are going out of business.
Rosenberg said some private colleges are
looking into a shared services model, beginning with IT services,
which would allow each school to reduce costs. "Is there a way to
reduce our collective workforce without reducing quality?" he asked.
The use of adjunct faculty is on the rise as
institutions try to reduce their costs and take advantage of a
dramatic oversupply of Ph.D.s in the job market. An interviewer
commented that one way to tweak the financial model is the use of
adjunct faculty. She asked what the long-term effects are of
increasing reliance on adjunct faculty, who are less expensive than
Macalester hasn't done that, Rosenberg
replied, but nationally and at many institutions in the Twin Cities,
it's true. He said it is a function of both the need of institutions
to reduce their costs and a dramatic oversupply of Ph.D.s in the job
market. "Colleges and universities can take advantage of that and hire
cheap labor," he said. A lot of adjuncts are excellent teachers, he
said, but they can't be expected to do what we expect of tenure-track
faculty: teaching, advising, connecting students to alumni, doing
research and serving on committees.
Some colleges are moving from the credit
system to competency ratings. An interviewer noted that 60 or 70
colleges around the country are trying to migrate from the Carnegie
credit system to competency ratings. He asked if this is a serious
Rosenberg said some migration from grades
and credits to proof of competency is happening and will continue to
happen. Minnesota is on the cutting edge of this. Cerkvenik added that
funding for making this change is a challenge for many schools.
Increasingly, flagship public universities
around the country are becoming educational institutions for the more
affluent. Rosenberg said these schools are enrolling more and more
affluent students who want amenities.He asked if we want to put all of
our public eggs in one basket, which he thinks will not help the state
in the long run. "It's not the right use of public dollars to
make college inexpensive for the children of people who could afford
to pay for it," he said. "Affluent students at the U of M are
essentially getting an enormous public subsidy to go to college. I
think that's wrong." The attitude at the Legislature toward higher education has changed
a little bit. "The pie's a little bigger," Cerkvenik said, "but
there's not a dialogue going on at the Capitol about these issues.
Growing the pie isn't enough, unless we can grow it in ways that
result in quality outcomes."
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (coordinator), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted
Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman