Roger Moe, former Minnesota
State Senate Majority Leader
vocational-technical education just starting to reverse
Civic CaucusFocus on Human CapitalInterview March
Adams, Dave Broden (vice chair), Paul Gilje (executive director),
Sallie Kemper (associate director), Dan Loritz (chair), Dana Schroeder
(associate director). By phone: Tom Abeles, Roger Moe, Clarence
Roger Moe, former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader and architect of
the 1995 merger of state colleges, community colleges and technical
colleges into the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU)
system, says frustrations with the state's postsecondary system led
him to propose the merger. He felt the campuses were competing, rather
than cooperating, leading to higher costs; the culture of higher
education was treating vocational-technical education as the "doormat"
of postsecondary education; and students were unable to transfer
credits from one state postsecondary institution to another. He says
he concluded that the state higher education system needed a better
system of governance.
believes the merger has relieved some of those frustrations. But he's
not sure the culture of higher education has changed in its view of
vocational-technical education. It would take more study, he says, to
determine whether the merger contributed to the devaluing of vo-tech
education, as some people have asserted. He says, though, that he's
beginning to see some efforts to put more emphasis on career and
says the distribution of state community colleges, technical colleges
and universities would look entirely different if it were planned
today, largely due to the advent of the Internet. But he doesn't see a
way for the technical colleges to leave the MnSCU system and go back
to the previous model of locally run Area Vocational Technical
Institutes (AVTIs), as some people have suggested. He does believe
that the AVTIs, among all of the state's postsecondary institutions,
had the strongest relationships with business and industry. But he
says that at least some postsecondary campuses around the state
continue to have those strong relationships.
He asserts that the E-12
education system is not doing its job, as shown by the high percentage
of community and technical college students needing remedial courses.
And Moe believes students should have earlier exposure to career
opportunities-during their elementary and high school years-and should
have the opportunity to take career and technical education classes at
their high schools.
Roger Moe is former Minnesota Senate Majority Leader. He served in
that position for 22 years, from 1981 to 2003, making him the
longest-serving Senate Majority Leader in the history of the state. He
was elected to the Minnesota Legislature in 1970 and represented
northwestern Minnesota's Second Senate District as a member of the
Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party until January 2003. He was the DFL
candidate for lieutenant governor in 1998 and for governor in 2002.
legislative achievements include the 1991 landmark measure
streamlining Minnesota's higher education structure through creation
of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU);
championing quality and high standards for K-12 education; and
authoring legislation that created the Environmental Trust Fund and
the Midwest Higher Education Compact.
is president of his own consulting company, National Strategies, Inc.,
and serves on the board of directors of the Policy Consensus
Initiative. Prior to becoming a legislator, he taught mathematics and
coached at Ada (Minn.) High School. He earned a B.S. degree from
Mayville State University in North Dakota, followed by graduate
studies in education administration at Moorhead State University and
North Dakota State University. In 2004, the University of Minnesota
presented Moe with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his many
years of public service.
Background The Civic
Caucus has released two recent statements on human capital:
one in September 2014 laying out the human capital challenges
facing the state today and in coming years and
a follow-up paper in January 2015 offering recommendations for
maintaining a high quality workforce in Minnesota. The Caucus
interviewed Roger Moe, architect of the MnSCU merger, to learn about
the place of vocational-technical education in the state's
Minnesota's technical colleges started in the high schools, then spun
off into the Area Vocational Technical Institutes (AVTIs), then into a
state system and, finally, into the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) system in 1995.
Roger Moe served on the Higher Education Finance Division of the
Senate Finance Committee from 1973 to 1983. He said over that time he
watched the budget requests come in from the state's higher education
institutions and decided some changes were necessary.
noted an example of what led him to that conclusion. Thief River Falls
wanted to build a new technical college campus at the high school.
"They wanted to get in line for a state appropriation," Moe said. "I
finally conceded, but said I'd only go along if they built it
connected to the community college there."
"Reluctantly, they did that," he continued. They built the community
and technical colleges together with a commons area between the
colleges. "I thought you'd start to see some cooperation," he said. In
1990, he reevaluated the campus and noted that there were still two
heads of the colleges, two financial aid offices and two deans. "They
had two of everything," he said, "on a single campus. And I was seeing
this constant aggressive marketing of the campuses. Everybody was
fishing in the same pool. If you didn't get out and aggressively
market and hustle these students, you were going to fall by the
The culture of higher education was always frustrating.
"People felt that vocational-technical education was the doormat of
higher education," Moe said. "Then on the next rung up were the
community colleges, then the state universities and then the
University of Minnesota (U of M). My view is that anything you do in
postsecondary education is worthwhile. I wanted to take this vertical
notion of higher education and turn it onto a horizontal plane. It's
easier to move on a horizontal plane than it is to move vertically."
Another frustration of many legislators, Moe said, was that students
would go to a community college and then decide to transfer to one of
the state colleges (now state universities), but half their credits
wouldn't transfer. "Most of this was driven by dollars," he said. "If
students had to start over again after transferring, the colleges
would make more money on tuition."
The state needed a better governance system for these campuses.
Moe said those frustrations led him to believe the colleges needed
better governance. "So I moved ahead with a plan to put the community
colleges, technical colleges and state colleges together," he said.
commented that he didn't include the U of M, because in the 1970s,
then-Senate Majority Leader Nick Coleman advanced a plan with all the
colleges and the U of M under the same roof. The U of M strongly
objected and it never passed. "I learned from that not to do that to
the University," he said. "They have their own unique niche, anyway."
The single governance system would have several potential benefits.
Moe believed combining the colleges into one system would:
Help change the culture of higher
education so that all postsecondary education-no matter on what
campus-would be viewed as important.
Improve the transferability of
credits, making it easier for students to move from one campus to
another within the system.
Allow consolidation of campuses and personnel to start to bend the
cost curve for higher education.
Several of those benefits have occurred under the merged higher
Moe pointed out several positive developments: (1) the issue of
transferring credits among campuses has been resolved, and (2) there
is one president shared by three campuses in northwestern
and one president for four campuses in central
said he's not sure if the creation of MnSCU has helped changed the
culture of higher education, since many people continue to emphasize
the benefit of a four-year degree over a two-year degree or
certification. And he questioned whether MnSCU has been able to bend
the higher education cost curve. "But it's not the creation of MnSCU
that's contributed to additional costs for students," he said. Greater
legislative emphasis on health care and corrections has hurt funding
for higher education. "We went from almost two-to-one in state funding
for higher education compared to student tuition to just about the
reverse: one-to-two in state funding vs. tuition," he said.
The division of higher education that had the best relationship with
business and industry was career and technical education.
One of the strengths of the AVTIs, Moe said, was that they all had a
local business/community committee that helped advise them, even down
to the particular curriculum that was being offered. For example, he
noted, the people advising a carpentry program were carpenters and
window manufacturers. "I don't think you see that quite as much in the
rest of higher education," he said.
offered an example of a good local business/education connection
today. Some of the curriculum at technical colleges in the
northwestern area of the state has been designed to provide a
workforce for Digi-Key in Thief River Falls, the seventh-largest
electronic components distributor in the world.
Society has taken the emphasis off career and technical education (CTE)
at both the secondary and postsecondary levels in favor of four-year
Moe said projected differences in income for four-year college
graduates compared with high school graduates have driven a lot of
this shift in emphasis. That is coupled with a diminished focus on
from the federal government, which, he said, used to put a lot of
money into CTE.
"Cultures slowly emerge," he said. "And it takes awhile to change
them. Now we're in the process of trying to change the emphasis back
to CTE. It's driven by the want ads today. There are very few listings
for people with four-year degrees, but there are a lot of jobs
available for people with CTE skills."
said there should also be more opportunities in the E-12 system for
students to find CTE.
Those opportunities are rarely available now.
The high percentage of community and technical college students
needing remedial courses is an indictment of the E-12 education
"That's where the problem is," Moe said. "They're not doing their job.
That's the bottom line."
We're not moving faster on making the transition from high school to
postsecondary easier because we have institutions that are difficult
to move and change. Moe
said legislation creating Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) and
College in the Schools was viewed as a way to blur the line from high
school into college. "What's holding that back are some of the
traditional institutions," he said.
Teacher certification requirements in Minnesota have erected barriers
for potential teachers. The requirements make it
difficult for teachers coming from other states wanting to get
certified here. They find they must take teacher-training courses at
colleges first. In addition, Moe said, licensing can be a barrier for
people with great expertise in various areas, who, with a few teaching
method courses, could be excellent teachers. He believes they
shouldn't need to go through a whole rigorous program of teacher
preparation. "There are a lot of community experts who could be
invaluable to schools," he said.
Ever since MnSCU was formed in 1995, the question has come up of
whether the merger caused the liberal arts side of higher education to
supplant the vocational-technical side. Moe
believes this trend to devalue vocational-technical education was in
place before MnSCU was created. He thinks more study would be required
to determine whether the merger accelerated that trend. "I would
certainly accept some of the responsibility if, in fact, creating
MnSCU as a single governance structure deemphasized
vocational-technical education," he said, "but I don't know if that
was part of it."
interviewer asked if both Minnesota and MnSCU would be better off if
the state took some of the state technical colleges out of MnSCU and
put them back into the former locally run AVTI system. The interviewer
commented that the AVTI model might better serve the business
interests of different parts of the state by helping the technical
schools be better connected to the area needs for vocational-technical
wouldn't be thrilled with taking these technical campuses now and
creating a separate governance system for them," Moe responded. "I
don't see that happening, considering the costs. It seems to me we
need to give them greater emphasis within the MnSCU governance
structure and create more autonomy for them, with additional resources
Another interviewer asked if the technical colleges would be more
responsive to local needs if they were under local control like the
AVTIs were. "It's not clear how to provide local autonomy to technical
colleges within a governance system like MnSCU," Moe responded. "Even
after the merger, the technical colleges have retained some local link
with businesses and industries in their regions. And all of them have
customized training, courses requested by employers to train their
employees in a particular skill." He stated, though, that the
technical colleges must focus on the career training needed both
locally and statewide.
is starting to see some renewed emphasis on vocational-technical
education, driven by the private sector demanding the workforce they
said he has seen renewed interest in technical education in the
Students should have earlier exposure to career opportunities.
"We need to go back upstream," Moe said, "and get people to see
earlier that these careers are great
opportunities for young people." He noted that
has some of the highest ratios of students to counselors in the
country, making it difficult for students to get career counseling.
Expand significantly the Minnesota Jobs Skill Partnership, run by the Department
of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). In response to an
interviewer's question about one small step Moe would recommend to
help maintain the quality of the state's workforce, Moe said he would
provide additional resources to significantly expand the Minnesota
Jobs Skill Partnership. The program provides training grants of up to
offset training-related expenses incurred by business, industry and
educational institutions to meet current and future workforce needs.
The grants go to public or private educational institutions that
partner with businesses to develop new-job training or retraining for
"That's probably the single most effective and cost-effective public
program working with postsecondary institutions and employers to meet
the emerging training needs for their employees," he said. "Businesses
have skin in the game. It's been a significant success." He would like
to see the program advertised more.
The distribution of state college and university campuses around the
state would look entirely different if it were planned today.
Moe said when the decisions were made on locating colleges, there was
an entirely different philosophy than there is today.
was an agrarian state and there was no Internet.
the political reality is the location of campuses is extremely
difficult to change," he said. "There are some campuses, particularly
rural campuses, that have struggled based upon enrollment. I don't
know the answer for it, but I know it's very difficult to close a
campus." He said the only campus he can recall being closed in the
last 30 years is the U of M campus at Waseca. He pointed out that the
University could do that on its own without needing the approval of
"Now, thank God for the Internet," Moe said. "There are no more
boundaries any more. That certainly has helped."
Sometimes the rigidity of the educational structures makes change
difficult, but it must be done collaboratively. In
response to an interviewer's question about whether
will adopt Wisconsin's way of dealing with unions in education, Moe
said he doesn't think so. "I'd prefer to do it differently than
has been doing it," he said. "I don't think that's how we should go
about making changes. That causes rifts that take a long time to heal.
We need to have more of a collaborative process. Consensus reached
that way lasts longer."
By and large, Minnesotans get a decent return on their tax dollars.
Moe said, people might disagree about the proper balance among the
income tax, sales tax and property tax. He noted that we have a
tendency to use statewide taxes to relieve property taxes when they
get too high through local government aid and school aid.
Former Governor Rudy Perpich attempted to get the sales tax broadened,
Moe said. "It's legitimate to do that, because the sales tax is a more
stable tax source and broadening it could bring down the tax rate," he
said. "But it's problematic at the Legislature."
Long term, business needs to bring back its focus on big-picture state
recalled the leadership the Minnesota Business Partnership provided on
big state issues in the 1970s and 1980s. "The top companies in the
state can have such an enormous influence on these big-picture
issues," he said, "if they would have a more collaborative process of
making statements, rather than engaging in a more partisan rhetoric."
Investing in broadband access across the state is extremely important
for education. Moe
recalled growing up on a farm and watching the Rural Electrification
Administration (REA) stringing wire to bring electricity to rural
areas. It wasn't profitable for private investors to run electricity
into sparsely populated areas. "It's no different from what's going on
in the broadband area," he said. "The REA model is the answer."
noted that Minnesota Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) has been very
active in trying to focus state resources on sparsely populated areas
to equalize opportunity for everyone.
It's unlikely there will be a collective, bipartisan effort by the
Legislature to deal with the state's educational achievement gap.
response to a question about leadership on trying to close the
achievement gap, Moe said there is no elected official who isn't aware
of the gap. But he has greater faith that community-grown efforts like
those of Generation Next and other organizations will be more
successful than any efforts by the Legislature.
He said his skepticism
that any bipartisan effort will come out of the Legislature stems from
the fact that there are no Republican legislators in the center
cities. Because they have no seats there and are unlikely to get any,
they don't need to put any emphasis on the center cities. "That's not
a partisan statement," he said. "That's a statement of reality."
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 (executive director), Dwight Johnson, 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