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Improve Quality, Control Costs

Report Card Grades Minnesota Public Universities at Pivotal Time
March 18, 2010

ST. PAUL, MN—As they prepare for new leaders and contend with continued fiscal challenges, Minnesota’s two public university systems need to focus on controlling costs and raising quality, according to a new report card.

“In an era of state budget shortfalls, higher education leaders in Minnesota are understandably concerned about their bottom line,” said Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, which published the report in conjunction with the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. “But if they wish to continue to receive generous public subsidies, it is time they renewed their focus on issues of cost and quality. The best way to stay in taxpayers’ good graces is to offer them an excellent product at a low cost.”

The report card, entitled At a Crossroads, surveys the two major public higher education systems in Minnesota. It offers a Pass or Fail grade in four key areas: what a college education costs (cost and effectiveness), how the universities are governed (governance), what students are learning (general education), and whether the marketplace of ideas is vibrant (intellectual diversity). Relying on the most recently available data, the report finds that:

  • Tuition and fees are eating up an ever-increasing share of the average family’s income—35 percent more than five years ago, even after accounting for inflation.
  • At seven universities, increases in administrative spending are outpacing increases in instructional spending. At five of these, administrative spending has increased by more than 30 percent in five years.
  • On no campus do even half of students earn their degrees in four years.
  • Most institutions require their students to take courses in composition and college-level math and science. But none require broad coursework in two areas essential to good citizenship: U.S. history/government and economics.
  • In the wake of a First Amendment controversy at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, students there and at St. Cloud State University report a troubled intellectual climate yet exhibit an unsettling lack of awareness of how to ensure their free-speech rights are respected.

Overall, the state receives failing grades in cost and effectiveness, general education, and intellectual diversity. For governance, both the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems receive passing grades for board structure and transparency of operations. The U of M system receives an F for board accomplishments, whereas MnSCU receives a P. A detailed breakdown of the grades is available in the executive summary.

“We are releasing this report at what is a critical decision-making time for many Minnesota families,” said Annette Meeks, CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. “Parents with graduating high school seniors are deciding now what university to attend next fall. We hope that this report card helps guide them in their decision-making process as well as providing policymakers with a fresh look at several areas ripe for reform.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent non-profit dedicated to empowering trustees on behalf of academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. Since its founding in 1995, ACTA has counseled boards, educated the public and published reports about such issues as good governance, historical literacy, core curricula, the free exchange of ideas and accreditation in higher education. 

The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota is an independent, non-profit educational and research organization that actively advocates the principles of individual freedom, personal responsibility, economic freedom, and limited government. Founded in 2006, FFM hopes to create a better and more vibrant future for every Minnesotan by helping shape sound public policy. 


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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