Pawlenty calls for more online education

By Elliot Mann

Gov. Tim Pawlenty called for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to increase their commitment to online education today, proposing that online credits should comprise 25 percent of MnSCU system’s total enrollment.

Speaking at the Rochester Community and Technical College campus, Pawlenty said online classes offer students more flexibility and options in a digital age.

"There is dramatic, revolutionary change occurring in higher education in the form of online learning," Pawlenty said. "There’s no doubt it’s going to happen. The question is if Minnesota is going to lead or is Minnesota going to follow? And I suggest that we lead."


The entire MnSCU system last year counted 9.2 percent of its enrollment through online courses, which is measured through total credits sold. The estimated figure for this year grows to more than 11 percent, according to MnSCU figures.

At RCTC, more than 15 percent of total enrollment comes from online classes, a figure that has nearly quadrupled since 2003, when that number was 3.9 percent. Mike Bequette, vice president of teaching and learning at RCTC, said the college could reach 18 percent by the end of the year.

David Olson, chairman of the MnSCU board of trustees, told Pawlenty that the board accepts his challenge and that students are demanding more online offerings. Olson said that 66,000 MnSCU students enrolled in online courses last year, which officials expect to more than double by 2015.

While the University of Minnesota is outside the MnSCU system, Pawlenty said, he remains hopeful that the state’s largest university will also buy in. The university counts about 3 percent of its enrollment through online credits.

Pawlenty is also proposing that Minnesota's high school graduation standards would require all students to complete an online course or participate in other online school experiences. This would take effect in 2013.

When asked if state colleges and universities will receive state funding to accomplish this initiative, Pawlenty cited increases through last year’s higher education bill that should have provided for technological advances. Also, he said, increasing online offerings should not replace faculty but ask them to do things differently.

When Pawlenty first reached campus, he greeted RCTC President Don Supalla and congratulated him on the college’s strong online participation.

"RCTC is already near that mark; you’ll make it no problem," Pawlenty said, among laughs from the RCTC staff.


Speaking later in the meeting, Supalla said he is confident that the Rochester college can reach online enrollment of 30 percent in about five years.

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