Dear Answer Man: I am a high school senior in Rochester, and I, like most other seniors, have been looking at university options for some time. During this process, I've noticed that Rochester doesn't have many options for universities and colleges. My question is: Why did Rochester never develop a major college within the city? -- Best wishes, Peter

Dear Peter: The University of Minnesota Rochester might take exception to your characterization of Rochester as lacking a major university. But I take your point. You're talking about a traditional, four-year residential university with a marching band and football team. The whole shebang. 

Why don't we have that?

The answer boils down to a couple factors: Resources and politics. 

And history.

People forget: Rochester wasn't always the thriving mini-metro that it is today. Rochester was smaller than Winona and Austin way before you were born.

When Winona State University was founded in 1858 as a teachers college, Winona's size as a population center and its location on the Mississippi River were key considerations. In the 1860s and 70s, Winona was the third-largest city in the state behind Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

By the time Rochester was big enough to clamor for a university of its own, the higher education table in southern Minnesota was pretty well set.

There was Winona State University in Winona, Mankato State University in Mankato, Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, and University of Minnesota Waseca (which went defunct in 1992).

The point is that "southern Minnesota already had four institutions on the I-90 corridor," said Don Supalla, retired president of Rochester Community and Technical College. "So you already had four. I don't think the financial dollars or the political will was there (to start a Rochester university)." 

Politics may also have played a role. Rochester for much of the 1960s and '70s was a conservative island in a DFL state.

Still, you had movers and shakers in the Rochester community saying, "God, ain't it awful that we don't have enough higher education options here?"  Instead of madly shaking their fists at the heavens, they decided to adapt.

GRAUC (today called the Greater Rochester Advocates for Universities and Colleges) was founded in 1987 to lobby and campaign for expanding higher education in the area.

After scouring the country, looking for higher education models that could be transplanted to Rochester, advocates settled on the University Center Rochester model. A joint partnership of RCTC, WSU and the U of M, it offered a pathway for students to hopscotch from associate's to bachelor's to master's degrees.

"Whatever was created had to be different," Supalla said. "And, ultimately, they got to the point where they wanted to get a four-year university, the University of Minnesota Rochester. But in its early days, they probably realized that wasn't going to happen, so they were just trying to build the inventory of baccalaureate or master's programs here in any shape and form they could. 

"So, GRAUC started out supporting the public and the privates. It was different, but it served the city's interests," Supalla said. 

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