April 2017 newsletter
Learn why St. Olaf places an emphasis on foreign languages study and hear how students at several colleges get active at the Capitol. Then read an excerpt from the College of Saint Benedict President’s speech on the role of higher ed in expanding the dialogue around inclusion. And close with a consideration of how to gauge our colleges’ financial health.
As students graduate and enter the working world, intercultural competency is increasingly valuable. Employers are looking for it — and private colleges are focusing on it.
At St. Olaf College, the study of foreign languages focuses on expanding the student’s understanding of people and culture. Jeane DeLaney, associate professor of Latin American history and current director of Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum, described this approach. “The study of foreign languages includes a strong focus on intercultural competency. We have a content-based approach to learning which focuses on reading and analysis of text,” she said. “It’s much more than grammar drills and memorization.”
St. Olaf has a focus on foreign languages for all students and requires either three or four semesters of language study, depending on the language. “Foreign Languages Across the Curriculum” is a program that provides students who have achieved a certain level of language proficiency to develop their skills further by taking courses in various disciplines that include a separate foreign language component. The program is rooted in the idea that every student, regardless of their major, can benefit from the cross-curriculum study of foreign languages.
Minnesota’s private colleges as a whole put an emphasis on foreign languages —awarding 41% of the foreign language degrees earning in the state. And employers are looking for the skills that are learned when studying foreign languages.
“When we are hiring, it’s sort of an expectation that the candidate has studied a foreign language,” Laura Guzman-Corrales said. Guzman-Corrales is a project coordinator at the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation and studied a foreign language at St. Olaf. She has done hiring for a wide range of positions in the research and medical fields and highly values intercultural competency. “We have a very diverse foundation — understanding and communicating with diverse populations is very important,” she said. “We’ve found that people who have studied a foreign language are better at connecting with a wide range of populations and end up being more successful.”
This emphasis on foreign languages in college hasn’t always been a given. “There was a trend about 10 years ago away from foreign languages and degrees like foreign languages. That seems to be changing, as employers increasingly look for individuals with strong communication skills and comfort in multicultural environments,” DeLaney said. “These are areas in which language majors really excel.”
The foreign language offerings at Minnesota’s Private Colleges are listed by institution on our Majors & Minors Grid, under “Language & Cultural Studies.”
By Tom Lancaster
The first time Emily Severson went to the Minnesota State Capitol to advocate for the State Grant program, she didn’t know much about state government. Severson is a senior communications major at Gustavus Adolphus College and has been advocating for the State Grant for three years.
“I didn’t know the difference between a senator and representative,” Emily said. “Two years later Gustavus asked me to help plan our Day at the Capitol. Going and advocating for the State Grant has really shaped the classes I’ve taken and what I’m looking for after college. I’m convinced that at some point I will serve in the political world.”
The State Grant program provides need-based aid to Minnesota college students studying in Minnesota. This year over 240 students from 12 colleges, including Emily Severson and her group from Gustavus, went to the Capitol to advocate for increased State Grant funding. The State Grant benefits almost 83,000 students, who attend both public and private colleges, go to school full- and part-time and earn associates degrees and bachelor’s degrees.
The State Grant isn’t the only issue students are passionate about. Jessica Toft, associate professor of social work at the St. Catherine University - University of St. Thomas School of Social Work, helps coordinate the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Social Work’s Day at the Capitol. The event brings 1,000 students and social workers to the Capitol to advocate.
While at the Capitol, these social work students get the chance to meet with legislators, watch a vote on the floor and learn how state government affects them.
“Student advocacy helps students create a conceptual map from larger systems of policy directly to their work, which helps them see the importance of both,” Toft said. “Also, a major part of advocacy is reaching out to legislators — this experience of connecting with people in authority is empowering.”
Students are also making their voice heard around college access. Marq Moore, a junior at Augsburg College, advocated for College Possible at the state Capitol. College Possible is a college access program that helps students get into college and be successful while in college. Moore took the opportunity to talk about on the quality of the program and the difference College Possible is making —while learning about himself along the way.
“Before going to the Capitol, I was really nervous but when I got there I realized my voice was powerful,” Moore said. “It helped me realize I do have a voice — it helped me find my identity.”
By Tom Lancaster
On April 5, Minnesota Campus Compact celebrated the community engagement and partnership that happens on college campuses across the state. As one of the speakers, College of Saint Benedict President Dr. Mary Hinton emphasized the current need to expand dialogue around inclusion. Here is a condensed version of that speech prepared by the College of Saint Benedict:
“We are at a critical juncture in higher education. I think we have to ask ourselves whether our mission is to perpetuate social norms and the status quo or to challenge ourselves by striving for a different reality on our campuses and for our students. Or, as the Pedagogy of the Oppressed reads: ‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation … and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’
"Educational institutions, locally and globally, continue to grapple with issues of inclusion: welcoming the rich and essential diversity needed to make our institutions and communities thrive. It is only when we combat ignorance with knowledge, and hatred with understanding, that we can begin to see progress with the critical issues of racism, poverty and social injustice.
"We know that, to be effective, teaching and learning moves us into some level of discomfort. As we ask questions, challenge historical assumptions, and seek to influence the future in what may be new and innovative ways, we may experience cognitive dissonance as our existing paradigms are tested.
"I argue that in the same way that we look to education to help drive improved economic outcomes and social mobility, we must also look to educational institutions to drive communities to reach their potential in the face of great change and complexity and to facilitate difficult conversations.
"Each one of us, regardless of our role on our campuses, has to engage beyond our comfort zone. I had to learn that my most important conversations likely weren't with my friends but with my enemies. Minimally, talking with my detractors forced me to expand my worldview, taught me patience, and, on some occasions, may have changed the perspective of these detractors.
"It is challenging to talk with your enemies. It is unfair that I had to, and you have to, use your energy to explain yourself and your worldview. I know what it is to walk into a room and be the only person who looks like me. I was at a conference recently and there were 400 people in the room and I was the only African American woman in the room. Part of my task in this life is to walk into that room. To embrace my difference, and to speak my truth. I have to speak it in a way that others can hear it. I have to speak it to my friends and to my enemies. I strive to speak my truth in such a way that were someone to listen, they couldn't tell who is, in fact, a friend and who is an enemy.
"That’s our task. It is a task that demands more from some of us than others. It is a task that will rely heavily on the work of allies. It is a task that on some days we may refuse to engage in out of a spirit of self-protection. Your willingness to extend yourself and to speak up – to be an ally – when you don’t have to; when you’re not explicitly targeted says far more about your intentions than the ease of signing a petition or holding a sign.”
For the full original speech, please visit the College of Saint Benedict website.
With collective annual expenditures of over $1.5 billion, the 17 nonprofit colleges that are members of the Minnesota Private College Council are large organizations with complex budgets. Given that, one way to gauge their financial health comes from the U.S. Department of Education, with financial responsibility composite scores that are calculated annually. The latest data released this winter is for fiscal 2015 and show that the 17 Minnesota Private College Council member institutions are on sound ground financially.
“Looking at the publicly available data from Department of Education, we certainly stand out as financially responsible institutions,” said Linda Brown, vice president for finance and treasurer, Concordia College. “As a whole, the ones I know are managed well in light of very challenging times. There have been volatile markets, demographic changes that have impacted most of us, and a recession that impacted our families and families of prospective students.”
Built on three different financial ratios, the composite scores range from -1.0 to 3.0, with institutions scoring above 1.5 being considered financially responsible. (Colleges with scores between 1.0 and 1.4 still have access to federal financial aid funds but are subject to additional oversight.) For our institutions, the latest scores for fiscal 2015 were well above the minimum threshold; they ranged from 2.4 to 3.0, with an average of 2.8.
“Minnesota’s private nonprofit colleges, these 17 in total, are all vibrant and very healthy, as evidenced by their Department of Education composite scores,” noted Thomas Rooney, CFO, vice president for finance and treasurer at Gustavus Adolphus College.
While the Department of Education’s composite score offers a window into college finances, many in higher education are aware of the limitations as well. In 2012, a taskforce was formed by the National Association of Independent Colleges and offered recommendations for improving the accuracy and consistency of the scores; one of the taskforce members was Karen L. Angell, a partner with the Minneapolis-based accounting firm of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, which works with many nonprofit colleges. Angell described problems with how the department has at times failed to follow its own methodology or accounting standards in calculating the scores. However, the department has not adopted any of the recommendations made by the task force and as a result, the way the composite scores are calculated remains a concern for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, among others.
Meanwhile, there aren’t many similarly standardized ways to get a handle on college finances that are publicly available. For someone looking for a more holistic picture, Angell recommends considering other factors, such as the way colleges are managing their expenses, their fundraising efforts and their enrollment, as well as the looking at the percentage of students who graduate in four years as that helps keep student costs, and therefore, debt down. Another key factor to weigh in gauging financial health of the institution is student outcomes and satisfaction, Rooney said.
Sometimes people misunderstand just how different these private nonprofit colleges are from for-profit businesses, Rooney said. For these colleges, mission always trumps other concerns. And if people are trying to keep private nonprofit colleges distinct from those that are public, he notes how public institutions receive a significant share of their funding from government, which is not the case for private nonprofits.
For private nonprofit colleges, continuing to ensure the financial health of the institutions and ability to continue to pursue their missions involves several priorities. Rooney said these include maintaining the equity of the physical and financial assets, managing risk and establishing strong financial controls in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.
For Minnesota Private College Council member institutions, the big picture perspective is that they remain financially sound. Yes, there are challenges for any large nonprofit, including these colleges, that require adjustments over time to manage the bottom line. “There are good times and less easy times,” Brown said. “But the colleges that are part of the Council are strong institutions and will weather challenges.”
By John Manning
In 2015-16 academic year, women earned 45 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in STEM disciplines at our institutions. That’s compared to only 35 percent at the University of Minnesota and 30 percent at Minnesota State universities.
Read the full Bachelor's Degrees Granted report.
Saint Mary's to dedicate new building May 12
Saint Mary's University of Minnesota is dedicating its new $19 million Science and Learning Center May 12 in Winona.
St. Olaf among top producers of U.S. Fulbright students
St. Olaf College is once again one of the top producers of Fulbright fellows among liberal arts colleges across the nation.
St. Thomas is first in Minnesota named Changemaker Campus
The University of St. Thomas has been named a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U, a global higher education consortium inspiring a culture of social innovation.
Hamline receives nearly $1 million grant for science teacher education
Hamline University’s Center for Global Environmental Education was awarded a second grant of $457,000 from the Minnesota Department of Education to continue innovate science teacher training.
Carleton students explore civil-rights movement’s roots on spring break trip
Eighteen Carleton College students experienced historical civil-rights sites in Ohio to Washington to Alabama. Read the students’ daily blog entries about the highly impactful experience.
Pi Mu Epsilon undergraduate math research conference held at Saint Ben’s/Saint John’s
The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University hosted the 38th annual conference for students from Minnesota, western Wisconsin and eastern North and South Dakota.
St. Catherine students earn national recognition for research project
Three St. Catherine University students will present their collaborative research project at “Posters on the Hill” in Washington, D.C.
Gustavus junior wins Goldwater, prepares for summer research at Harvard
Gustavus Adolphus College biochemistry and mathematics major Katie Aney was recently named a Barry M. Goldwater Scholar and will conduct research at Harvard through the Amgen Scholars Program this summer.
Augsburg's acclaimed StepUP Program, staff take on increased national role in reducing stigma
Augsburg College's new Executive Director for Recovery Advancement ensures U.S. students who seek to live in recovery from substance use disorders have greater opportunities for success.
Youth Theology Institute now taking applications
The organizers of The College of St. Scholastica's Youth Theology Institute are gearing up for summer.
NYC journalist and professor headlines first journalism symposium
During a Bethel University journalism symposium, former Wall Street Journal writer Paul Glader addressed media literacy and journalism ethics amidst alternative facts and fake news.
Macalester professor Marlon James is one of 52 notable Minnesotans
The Macalester College professor and 2015 Man Booker Prize-winning author is a bonafide literary superstar but chooses to stay in Minnesota.
Commencement dates, details announced
View the list of 2017 commencement events for traditional undergraduates at our colleges.
Day at the Capitol wraps ups
This spring, 247 student advocates from our colleges participated in Day at the Capitol and met with their hometown legislators to speak up about the impact of need-based financial aid and the benefits of increasing funding for the program.
Graduation rate report
Our four-year graduation rate continues to rank first in the Midwest, higher than the region’s public systems, looking at the latest data in the Council’s graduation rate report released this month.
Report on local economic activities of Minnesota’s private colleges
Our 17 members institutions contributed more than $1.54 billion to Minnesota’s economy in the 2015-16 academic year and collectively were the 13th employer in the state.
Registration for Minnesota Private College Week now open
Students and families can now register for the free event, which runs June 26-30 this year with two sessions offered daily. These introductory visits often serve as a first step to help students discover what their looking for in a college.
Phillips luncheon held, Eddie Phillips Scholarship expanded
On April 13, the Minnesota Private College Fund celebrated all of the scholarship recipients supported by the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation. Eighteen students are participating in the Phillips Scholars program, and Eddie Phillips Scholarship has expanded from three to 15 students from five campuses.
The skills gap is actually an awareness gap -- and it's easier to fix
Forbes, Mar. 17, 2017
College choice: It’s anybody’s guess
Inside Higher Ed, Mar. 22, 2017
The ideal college education can yield rocket scientists who write poetry
San Diego Union-Tribune, Mar. 30, 2017
The FAFSA's midterm grade
The Atlantic Magazine, Mar. 31, 2017
Check this box if you’re a good person
The New York Times, Apr. 4, 2017
Year-round Pell's likely return
Inside Higher Ed, Apr. 6, 2017