NORTH MANKATO — Wednesday marks exactly seven months that Steven Rosenstone has held the position of chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems.
In that time, as he’s traveled the state — including five visits to Mankato — he’s learned a great deal about the educated workers needed in various fields throughout Minnesota. And one field that is in constant need is agriculture, he told students, staff and area agricultural producers Tuesday at South Central College.
“Today’s farmers and agricultural producers must be many things. ... And year after year, your success is dependent upon many factors that are out of your control,” Rosenstone said during the fourth annual New Tools for New Rules Agricultural Symposium. “I deeply admire you for your courage ... .”
The two main talking points of Rosenstone’s speech focused on the effect the agricultural sector has on the success and prosperity of Minnesota, and MnSCU’s commitment to educational programs that contribute to that prosperity.
The ag sector has a $75 billion economic impact on Minnesota, he said, adding that one economist asserted that one in four Minnesotans is “touched by the agricultural sector.”
“We understand the critical role agriculture plays in the state’s economy,” he said.
The continuous evolution of the agricultural field means students have to have a broad range of ag knowledge when they graduate, from conservation to technological developments to bioengineering, Rosenstone said. With five out of seven state universities offering agriculture programs, MnSCU is preparing the workforce needed for the state’s ag sector, Rosenstone said.
“Students must have access to instruction and programs that meet their needs.”
Rosenstone also touted the impact MnSCU institutions have on the state. He said there are MnSCU colleges and universities in 47 communities, having a great impact on regional economies; 420,000 students are attending those schools; 60 percent of all undergrads in the state go to a MnSCU school; 80 percent of all new nurses are educated at a MnSCU institution; and 80 percent of all MnSCU graduates stay in Minnesota.
And while enrollment has increased 15 percent in recent years, the state per-pupil dollars have been slashed by 46 percent, he said.
“More and more, the financial responsibility has fallen to our students.”
Articulating the needs of local communities to state representatives is the key to changing this, he said. Local leaders must provide feedback to the Capitol on the impact a quality education has on local employees and, by extension, local communities.
“There’s a disconnect here.”