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Pioneer Editorial: Higher ed enrollment soars high

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It's been proven time and time again that during times of recession, people return to school. They can't find work so they go to school or they're jobless and need to learn new skills.

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That seems to be the case this fall as enrollment is soaring at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities institutions, especially at Bemidji State University.

In figures released last week after a 30-day headcount, there were 198,792 students or 12,641 more than at the start of school in 2008, amounting to nearly a 7 percent increase. It's the fourth-straight year that the system's fall enrollment has set a record high.

Bemidji State led all state universities with a 6.1 percent fall enrollment increase, from 4,876 students to 5,171. This year's fall freshman class is the largest at BSU in several decades, BSU President Jon Quistgaard told members of the House Capital Investment Committee on campus Wednesday night.

Northwest Technical College in Bemidji has seen an even greater enrollment increase this fall at 16.9 percent, from 1,373 students to 1,605.

"We know the economy was a major factor driving this enrollment boom," said Chancellor James McCormick. "This unprecedented growth comes at a time when budgets have been cut at the state colleges and universities so faculty and staff are working harder than ever to serve students. We especially welcome the opportunity to serve displaced workers seeking to retool and upgrade their knowledge and skills."

The surplus of students does create funding problems for MnSCU and the University of Minnesota. With limited financial resources, more monies will have to be found to serve these new students seek there place n a 21st century economy. Raising tuition, given the economy, is not an option.

Other alternatives may need to be sought, such as online learning. MnSCU reported a 21.7 percent increase this fall in online learning students, a venture that is being accepted by learners.

Facilities must also be upgraded and modernized for new economy learning. MnSCU's capital improvement budget requests top $396.8 million, while the U of M approved a list of $240 million Friday in projects. All together, higher ed's $636 million in requests is nearly two-thirds of what legislators will be the 2010 session's bonding bill.

Suddenly, higher education -- woefully funded in recent years -- now takes a front seat in budget talks as a public service that is wanted and needed for Minnesota's future.

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