Our View: WSU steps up to meet our workforce needs

Winona State University's announcement that it's expanding class offerings and opening a new location in downtown Rochester is a welcome development in light of the region's labor shortage.

With the 11-county area — Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Rice, Steele, Wabasha and Winona — having its highest number of job vacancies in at least 15 years , one could argue that the expansion of Winona State University-Rochester is overdue, but we're pleased to see WSU officials are stepping up to the challenge of filling gaps in the area's workforce.

During the next two years, WSU plans to add more nursing, science and engineering and education classes in Rochester. The largest expansion is projected in its accounting and business administration programs, with a human resources degree expected to be added later.

The expansion means WSU will grow outside of its existing space on the Rochester Community and Technical College campus. While many of its programs will stay at RCTC, others will be housed on the top floor of the Riverside Building on the corner of Broadway Avenue and Fourth Street Southeast.

WSU has maintained a presence in Rochester since 1917. Nearly 1,000 students are served by the WSU-Rochester campus each year. Seventy percent of WSU students have taken classes at RCTC.


WSU's relationship with RCTC has been strengthened from its "Path to Purple" program, which began in 2009 as a broadening of the "Two Plus Two" plan the schools had shared since the 1980s. We've always found it fitting that the state's oldest state university has worked closely with the state's oldest community college to ease transfers between the schools. In fact, WSU and RCTC have a jointly funded academic adviser who facilitates such transfers.

Transferring from one school in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System should be a seamless transaction, but that's often not the case. Students must work closely with academic advisers to assist them through myriad acronyms, such as DARS, or Degree Audit Report System, a document that tracks progress toward completing a degree; and MnTC, or Minnesota Transfer Curriculum, a package of classes that should satisfy general education requirements at all Minnesota public colleges and universities.

Of course, students seeking a four-year degree have other options, such as the University of Minnesota-Rochester, St. Mary's University, Augsburg College, Cardinal Stritch University, the College of St. Scholastica and Crossroads College. By offering even more choices, Winona's expansion is a win-win scenario for shorthanded employers and students seeking to fill those job vacancies

WSU President Scott Olson spoke for many when he was optimistic about his university's expansion.

"We believe in Rochester," Olson said during last week's announcement. "We think there's opportunity here. We're gonna leap and create some programs and trust that the students will follow."

We share Olson's confidence. WSU's expansion won't meet all of the area's employment needs as workforce gaps in the skilled trades will be better addressed by the vocational schools.

But it will go a long way toward confronting our labor shortage.

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