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MnSCU overhaul wins Gates Foundation support

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ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s system of public colleges and universities will join 11 other state higher education systems in a reform effort backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Steven Rosenstone, chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, or MnSCU, credited the new “Charting the Future” plan to reform the system with its selection for what he called “a long-term partnership to transform higher education.”

It is not yet clear how much financial support for the plan’s rollout MnSCU might receive. It was among 40 state systems that competed to join the partnership.

“This is powerful affirmation of the work we’ve undertaken and the vision our faculty, staff and students have set,” Rosenstone told MnSCU’s trustees Wednesday.

The Gates Foundation has emerged as the major philanthropic player in higher education, with more than $470 million in grants since 2006, according to a Chronicle of Higher

Education analysis last year. The foundation’s goals are to increase college completion rates, especially for low-income students. It also seeks to harness technology and other innovations that could allow colleges to reduce costs.

Some critics have raised questions about the foundation’s outsized influence and its focus on fast graduation and marketable degrees.

Rosenstone told trustees MnSCU was invited to submit an application for Gates’ State Postsecondary Education Systems Partnership in October. At the time, the system was gearing up to adopt its Charting the Future plan.

The plan aims to boost coordination among MnSCU’s 24 member institutions, expand the system’s online offerings and give students more opportunities to earn credit for hands-on experience, among other goals.

Much in the plan jibes with goals the Gates Foundation has championed, from technology-powered learning to competence-based degrees to measurable academic goals. Rosenstone said the system shared with Gates efforts underway to align programs more closely to the needs of local employers. He also said his team touted joint purchasing by

campuses to leverage discounts.

Rosenstone said the Gates initiative will provide MnSCU money and the chance to compare notes with other participating systems.

“Charting the Future” has garnered support from many college presidents, students and others. University faculty have voiced some concern that the plan might lead to increased centralization and

devalue the humanities.

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