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Pioneer Editorial: The future in higher ed is Bemidji

It's not without a bit of irony that on Thursday, while Bemidji higher education officials were extolling the virtues of collaboration and partnership to an aide of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., that in Washington, D.C., the Commission on the Future of Higher Education issued its draft recommendations. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who will receive the final report next month, said it will "spark a national debate and examine the critical issues of access, affordability, accountability, quality and innovation in order to determine whether our colleges and universities are adequately preparing students for the competitive 21st century workforce."

Bemidji State University President Jon Quistgaard and Northwest Technical College Provost Charles Giammona laid out for Coleman aide Lorianne Moss a study in collaboration which involves many northwest Minnesota institutions as well as businesses and school districts. In fact, BSU will coordinate a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Center of Excellence with its Consortium for Manufacturing and Applied Engineering. Northwest Tech is also active with applied health fields, and is actively aiding the community in siting and operating a critical access dental clinic for low-income families. The colleges hope to grow that collaboration in other fields, vying for a national Center for Renewable Energy Research, now being proposed.

Moss said the Bemidji model could be a national model, adding that the Republican senator is keen on moving Minnesota ahead, prepared for global competition.

"The future of our country's colleges and universities is threatened by global competitive pressures, powerful techno-logical developments, restraints on public finance and serious structural limitations that cry out for reform," concludes the Commission on the Future of Higher Education. "Our colleges and universities must become more transparent, faster to respond to rapidly changing circum-stances and increasingly productive in order to deal effectively with the powerful forces of change they now face."

Along with some nuts and bolts recommendations such as consolidating federal student aid programs and ensuring that Pell Grants -- the main aid program for low-income students -- cover at least 70 percent of in-state tuition costs, the commission also makes some sweeping policy recommendations.

"The Commission calls on policymakers to address the needs of higher education in order to maintain social mobility and a high standard of living. We call on the business community to become directly and fully engaged with government and higher education leaders in developing innovative structures for delivering 21st century educational services -- and in providing the necessary financial and hu-man resources for that purpose," it states.

It's quite apparent that those recommendations are already in practice here in Bemidji ...