Q+A with President Arthur: This year’s priorities, prospects for new arts center

Q+A with President Arthur: This year’s priorities, prospects for new arts center
President Ginny Arthur at the awards ceremony for the Student Poster Conference in New Main Great Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Photo by Eli Bartz

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The Metropolitan met with President Ginny Arthur on Oct. 18, 2018 for an hourlong conversation about her presidential priorities for the coming year, strategic planning, and prospects for building a center for fine and performing arts in Brooklyn Park. This is the first Q&A of the 2018-2019 academic year.

Can you give us a long view of the year ahead? What are your priorities and how do you determine them?

Part of the priorities are driven by the [Minnesota State] system—what the chancellor says are his priorities. The three priorities he has are very broad and really dovetail nicely with the things we were thinking about: student success, equity and inclusion, and financial sustainability.

I get a report in May each year which has a dashboard with 21 indicators on there.

It’s a long document because they give you all of the explanation of each of these measures. I look at it and I take it to the vice presidents. We do an analysis of where we need to put in some work and that helps to drive some of the priorities.

For example, here’s one of the measures in student success: How are students of color, low-income students or first-generation students doing in terms of progression and completion compared to the majority group of students?

Metro State actually does about the best in the system [on that measure]. There’s very little opportunity gap or achievement gap.

I would like to see higher completion rates for all students. So that’s formed one of our priorities for this year.

In terms of financial sustainability, I think we got on a good budget footing. But I want us to be very proactive.

I think about admissions and how we’re doing in terms of attracting new students. We have what I think is a relatively poor rate of what I’ll call conversion—students who have applied, they’ve been accepted and then they don’t enroll.  

From application to enrollment, only about a third of the students, maybe 35 percent of the students actually enroll. Maybe that wouldn’t be out of line at a traditional four-year university. But we’re serving working adults, so they didn’t apply to 10 universities. They’ve probably applied maybe to Metro State, maybe one other place. Probably a for-profit that’s going to cost them more!

With adult students who go through the application process, we know they’re committed to coming back to get their education. I want to know more about what’s happening there [with the conversion rate]. We’re going to be doing some work on that part of enrollment.

We are undertaking strategic planning this year. We’re going to be having town hall meetings to gather input from across campus, plus some other mechanisms for people to give input. They can really help us to identify our top issues moving forward. We’re working with a consultant on a vision for the strategic plan.

 

How specific are the questions asked at town hall meetings?

They’re at a higher level right now. Questions like: What do you see as the strengths of the university? What do you see as the most promising possibilities for the university? How are we distinctive and what are our aspirations?

When you put those together, we can develop what we call the vision. Things like, ‘we want to be known for excellence in meeting the needs of students.’

At the town halls, we will divide people into groups and have them spend five minutes talking about areas of strength, then five minutes about the areas of promise, distinction and aspiration.

Then the [strategic planning] task force will come up with some specific goals and tasks that we will take to achieve those goals.

Maybe in late January, fairly early in the spring semester, we’ll probably have another public means of communicating and getting input.

We’ll just keep refining that throughout the semester. My hope is we will have a strategic plan document by the end of April so that we can use it to formulate our plans for the next year.

 

What would you say are the challenges in the upcoming year?

I think the challenges really exist in our external environment.

We’re going to be entering a legislative session. The board [of the Minnesota State system] yesterday (Oct. 17) endorsed making a very bold ask of the Legislature. I think it’s a great strategy because this way we’re making it clear to the citizens of this state that if we’re going to maintain a quality educational system, this is what we need now.

If we don’t get it [state funding], then that becomes the framework for talking about other actions we might have to take. If we get it, we don’t have to raise tuition.

If we don’t get it, then the board is reserving the right to talk about tuition increases. We know that’s very difficult given the students who are served across the system.

So, I think it’s an external challenge. But it’s also an internal challenge. The board is launching an initiative called “Reimagining Minnesota State.” Well, I think Metro State was born out of a movement to reimagine higher education in the 1970s. We should still continue to reimagine ourselves 47 years later.

 

In your convocation address in August, you noted some campus initiatives that students might not know about. What new majors and advanced degrees are coming to Metro State?   

In terms of new program development, the faculty here are very attuned to emerging needs in the workforce and where students might be attracted.

Certainly, computer science is bulging at the seams. I think we’re turning some students away because we don’t have enough faculty right now to serve them.

The area of cybersecurity has become very interesting to a lot of people. The statistics right now in the state of Minnesota are for every person who graduates or has a competency in cybersecurity, there are seven jobs available. The ratio is just tipped upside down.

The other new program that’s still in development is data analytics.

I was at the board meeting yesterday at Winona State University. They invited business people from Winona and the surrounding region to lunch. I talked to the CEO of a company that is a large producer of sports team-related goods like ‘cheeseheads’ and water bottles. He was saying that data analytics is an emerging field for them. They need people who can analyze the trends, find the products that people really like, the designs that resonate, so they can produce more of them.

In the nursing field, there’s a specialty called being a nurse anesthetist. The accrediting body for nurse anesthetists has decided that those practitioners should have a doctorate. There is a school in the Twin Cities; I think Mayo Clinic is the only other place that has a program.

The Minneapolis School of Anesthesia is not an independently accredited college or university, so they can’t ever offer a doctorate. So, they came to us and said we’d like to work with you on the program. They have the faculty and the facilities; we will provide the rest of the curriculum. It will be a specialization within our doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program.

The provost will start working on an academic plan for the next five years. Where do we need to hire faculty? Where do we want to expand? What might be new fields that we will get into? Where do we need to partner with people?

I’m really excited about the launch of our new master’s degree program in individualized studies. Individualized studies has been one of the strongest majors in terms of number of students selecting that program for a long time.

 

When will the first students be enrolled in that?

They will be enrolling students in next fall. And similar to the undergraduate degree, you get an advisor, you take a class on planning your degree, then you choose from 500 and 600-level classes.

 

What can you tell us about prospects for a center for fine arts and performing arts in the north metro?

It is very exciting. It’s a joint project with the Osseo school district, the city of Brooklyn Park and North Hennepin Community College. It would be located by 85th Avenue and Broadway, on land owned by North Hennepin.

There’s been explosive growth in Brooklyn Park in the past few years, all these businesses that have come into the area and attracted more people to live there.

The conversation originally got started with the city saying we want some kind of cultural amenity. They undertook a community study that showed that people were very interested in the performing arts.

Then the school district joined in. If it all comes together the site would have a magnet high school too.

Osseo school district has three high schools. All are over capacity by 100 to 200 students. That’s not enough to build a new high school normally if it was a ‘full service’ school with sports teams and all that. But the school board though a magnet high school organized around music, theater, fine arts would draw off enough students from the other high schools to relieve that pressure.

And it will hopefully provide a healthy feeder of students from the high school into an associate’s and bachelor’s program.

The architects have designed a beautiful, very flexible performance space. It can have a traditional theater stage with seating. Or the seating can retract into the wall and you have more open performances.

One building could offer performance spaces, classrooms, plus labs for activities like printmaking, digital arts and ceramics.

 

Would you anticipate moving our theater and studio arts departments out there?

Yes, and they’ve been consulted along the way. I think the theater people are particularly excited about this. I admit maybe they weren’t at first because they liked being in the downtown Minneapolis location.

But there will be light rail transit. I think sometimes people don’t realize that the suburbs like Maple Grove, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center have become as diverse as they are. One in four people in the city of Brooklyn Park was not born in the United States. And I think if you put in Brooklyn Center with that, it goes to one in three was born outside the U.S. That is exactly the nontraditional population that we serve at Metro State.

We commissioned a feasibility study in the spring because you need to know if your idea is really economically viable. It’ll be an expensive project and we had a person from the [Minnesota State] system office sitting in. I think in June he said: maybe you don’t want to wait another two years for a bonding bill?

We have to submit this fall to get into the 2020 bonding bill. This legislative cycle in 2019 is the budget; the next one will be bonding. We have forged ahead in submitting our project proposal.

We’ll go through the scoring process in January. If the system office puts it on their list, it goes to the Legislature.

We ended up with a project size of about $80 million. That does not include the high school, there would need to be a school district referendum for that.

 

Can the project happen without the school district?

It could happen without the high school. That was part of the feasibility study, to find out what the tolerance is.

Our consultants, both the architects and the economic person, have said we’ll have to do fundraising because we won’t get all the money from the Legislature. But it’s intriguing because it’s a public-public-public-public partnership and it would really bring something to the community.  We are putting the emphasis on bringing cultural arts to a population that doesn’t traditionally have access.

It’s a big dream but it’s getting incrementally closer to reality all the time.

I think our studio arts people right now would say they want to maintain their work here in the Twin Cities and then also offer majors out there [in Brooklyn Park]. Let’s see what would develop over time. Anoka-Ramsey is not very far from the North Hennepin campus and they have a very robust visual arts program. The students there are interested in a BFA [bachelor of fine arts], which we could get to with these kinds of facilities and if absolutely everything fell into place.

 

When would you anticipate construction happening?

We divided the project because of its size, going first for the design money and then the construction. The $80 million would be to construct a facility. I can’t remember exactly what the number is for design, but it’s much smaller.

What we have learned is that the Legislature never funded a design and then didn’t fund the project. So, the strategy was to break it up, so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. If they go for the design part, then they probably have the commitment to the bigger project.

Already for the feasibility study, North Hennepin and Metro State contributed $5,000 each, and the rest of it came from the city of Brooklyn Park and Hennepin county [$30,000 each].

When light rail goes in [the METRO Blue Line expansion from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park, slated to open in 2024], then the county may have funds from the federal government to make sure that they stimulate development along the line. Hennepin County already has a public library right on this corner. There could be a big plaza too for performing arts and farmer’s markets and all that.

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