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RCTC puts forward legislative requests

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Rochester Community and Technical College students, educators and administrators made their pitch to area legislators Friday for funding for campus construction projects and an increase in funding.

With a workforce shortage, the college's leadership made the case that the region relies on RCTC to train students that will work in Southeast Minnesota, pointing to partnerships with regional employers, such as Mayo Clinic.

"RCTC recognizes that homegrown talent is the key to our region's prosperity, but we can't grow it alone," said RCTC President Mary Davenport to a room full of legislators.

RCTC argued the workforce shortage is particularly challenging for Southeast Minnesota, more so than for other areas of the state.

Davenport asked that they peg funding to inflation for the next two years and fund the replacement of Minnesota State's "critical technology infrastructure," which would mean upgrading its records system and IT system to be more secure, according to RCTC's director of communications, Nate Stoltman.


And, of course, that "lingering bonding bill," Davenport said, reminding legislators of the Memorial Hall and Plaza Hall projects the college has been pushing for. The projects rank seventh on the Minnesota State system's priority list.

The project initially was included in the Legislature's bonding bill last year but didn't make the final cut . In early January, Gov. Mark Dayton announced the RCTC project was included in his construction proposal, though he recommended $14.5 million.

RCTC's ask includes $2.5 million for asset preservation and $21.7 million for Memorial Hall and Plaza Hall demolition, design and renovation.

The college's final request: help create incentives for students who want to transfer to the system's four-year universities to get a bachelor's degree.

Minnesota State budget woes

In November, Chancellor Steven Rosenstone asked the state for continued help with the system's budget deficit . Increasing costs, lower enrollment and less money from the state put Minnesota State and its colleges and universities in an "urgent" financial bind, he said.

A plan to address that funding gap was put forward last year, and it included driving enrollment, cutting costs and calling on the state to allocate more money to the system.

Enrollment this fall was projected to be about 20,000 fewer students than when systemwide enrollment peaked in 2011 at 157,900 students.


They say that needs to be increased to the national average of state investment in higher ed — that would mean about an additional $184 million for Minnesota State.

Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton announced his recommendation for $150 million in new funding for the Minnesota State system over the biennium.

A focus on the workforce

Guy Finne, a Mayo Clinic human resources manager, said the region really needs to focus on ramping up its "skilled and capable workforce."

"The time's right for this conversation because it's obvious that it needs to be done," he said. "We need to make sure higher ed grows so that we can attract more talent."

Last year, nearly 300 hires came from RCTC and nearly 200 came from Winona State University, Finne said.

"There's no doubt about it, year in and year out our regional schools provide Mayo Clinic with a ton of quality candidates."

Finne said area educators offer those already employed in the region a chance to advance their careers with additional training.


"We rely on having those options out there, a variety of options," Finne said.

He also said he thinks higher education brings together people from difference backgrounds — often a challenge in today's divisive society.

He said these are opportunities for people to develop "mutual respect," a skill highly valued by employers.

"If there's a difference in our values, our beliefs, how we look and what we like to do and how we like to spend our time, but we can learn to appreciate our differences."

"This really is about the American Dream," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester. "This is where the ladder is for so many people. If you work hard, no matter where you start, there's a path for you."

She said that's why she is voicing support for addressing workforce shortages.

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said he recognizes the increasing burden on students. He believes we need to provide "options and opportunities" such as the option for students to attend two-year institutions because when it comes to education, "it's not one size fits all."

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