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Achievement gap widens at Minnesota State's 7 universities

ST. PAUL—Achievement gaps between whites and students of color are closing somewhat at Minnesota State two-year colleges but growing at the system's seven universities.

Over the past four years, the 30 colleges saw broad improvement in their three-year completion rates. Fifty-eight percent of white students finished school on time, up 3.2 percentage points, while students of color as a group improved 4.6 points, to 43.5 percent.

However, six-year graduation rates for university students of color fell 2.5 points, to 41.5 percent. White students improved by a point, to 55.4 percent.

The system saw similar trends in the percentage of students returning for a second year of school.

Chancellor Devinder Malhotra has made it a priority to improve on success measures for all students, especially students of color and American Indians.

Ron Anderson, senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, told trustees Tuesday, May 15, they're using a variety of tools to close achievement gaps. They're relying less on non-credit-bearing developmental courses, creating transfer pathways across institutions and learning from schools that are making progress.

"We have just scratched the surface of understanding the efficacies of those approaches," he said.

Minnesota State has begun work on a costly new student information system, which chief financial officer Laura King called "perhaps the most transformative change this system has ever undertaken."

It should help campuses dig deeper into data to identify and support students who need it.

Minnesota State also has changed its budget model to financially reward institutions that meet system goals for student success.

Clyde Pickett, system chief diversity officer, said colleges and universities also must make their practices more equitable and learn from students of color who succeed in school.

System expects 8th year of enrollment drop

Despite another tuition freeze, Minnesota State expects enrollment at its colleges and universities to decline for an eighth consecutive year.

This fall, the 30 colleges and seven universities are projecting the equivalent of 127,733 full-time students on their campuses. That's down 19 percent since 2011 — 14 percent among universities and 22 percent at the colleges.

Chief financial officer Laura King said the trend is a result of a strong job market and declines in the size of the state's high school graduating classes.

The drop has forced the system to shrink its number of employees by 7.3 percent since 2009, she said. And system spending next year will be down $71 million — on a budget of more than $2 billion — compared with 2009, adjusting for inflation.

Five colleges and four universities are under close financial monitoring from the system office in St. Paul because of declining enrollment or low budget reserves.

King said all nine have made progress getting their finances in order, including St. Cloud State University, which spent $5 million less than it took in this year. She called that "a very strong performance."

Net tuition down for some

In the past six years, lawmakers have frozen tuition for the state's two-year colleges and held the universities to a cumulative increase of less than 8 percent.

The state has replaced much of that lost tuition revenue with additional aid to the system, but some campus leaders want the freedom to set their own tuition rates.

Some students actually will pay less in net tuition next year because of increased financial aid.

King said the roughly one-third of students who qualify for state grants will save, on average, $57 at state colleges and $72 at universities next year.

Students who don't qualify for financial aid will pay, on average, $4,815 for state colleges and $7,287 at universities.

Mandatory fees are going up about $9 for colleges and $33 at universities.