UMR looks to grow in 2nd decade

MINNEAPOLIS — A decade after the University of Minnesota Rochester accepted its first class of undergraduate students, UMR officials are making plans to make its second decade the beginning of accelerated growth.

On Thursday, UMR Chancellor Lori Carrell presented University of Minnesota’s regents with three stages of student growth, with the furthest-out “boldest” stage projecting UMR serving 2,500 students, up more than three-fold from its current 702 student body.

Though no timeline was given for achieving the boldest stage, it is clear that UMR officials envision a future campus significantly larger than the current one.

“We are asking to begin the journey into UMR’s second decade with bold enrollment growth,” Carrell told regents of the Mission Fulfillment Committee at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis. “If we squint and look out far enough, we predict that Rochester can eventually sustain a campus of 2,500 students. At any rate, it’s time to get started.”

The three stages were labeled bold, bolder and boldest, and it was the near-term bold scenario that commanded the attention of Carrell and the regents at Thursday’s meeting. That plan showed Rochester’s health-care-focused university growing into a 1,000-student university into the middle of the next decade.

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler supports the plan and the associated costs, which will be embedded in the U’s request to the state Legislature, Carrell said in an interview.

Regent Randy Simonson said he liked that the costs associated with an expansion would be paid for by tuition revenue generated by more students.

“This really looks good to me,” Simonson said.

Modest growth for now

Currently, UMR is in the middle of five-year enrollment plan, which projects modest growth of 50 undergraduate students per year until 2020. The growth plan presented to the regents projects what happens after 2020.

“What we lack as a brand-new start-up is scale. And that is precisely the challenge our next strategic enrollment faces,” Carrell said.

To catalyze the growth, the plan envisions $1.9 million in “seed money” spread over three years to invest in recruiters and recruitment materials, scholarships, faculty, and an expansion of space.

“For a modest investment, we’ll be able to really continue the momentum here and grow,” Carrell said.

“The ‘bold’ plan does not require the investment of extraordinary additional recurring state resources,” Lincoln Kallsen, the U’s assistant vice president of institutional analysis, said.

One looming challenge for UMR is dorm space. Carrell told the regents that enrollment is ahead of last year’s pace; that “our beds are full” and the school has a “challenge.”

Carrell said a number of options have been explored, including taking on long-term leases with properties that are currently being built. But the cost to students would be prohibitive. Any solution to the problem, she said, will likely lie with the school partnering with a private entity, an arrangement that has fueled much of the building growth at UMR.

The type of student

Carrell said UMR’s focus and innovative approach to education puts the school in a good position to address a growing workforce need in health care. Over the coming years, 92,000 job openings in health care will open that will require an undergraduate degree.

At the same time, the state’s high school graduates are declining in number and graduating classes today are more racially and ethnically diverse. That growing diversity fits UMR’s wheelhouse to a T. UMR has shown success in serving underserved students, effectively eliminating an achievement gap between minority and white students that exists at other schools.

“As a result of our opportunity to focus on the quality of education, UMR can prepare a wider swath of the Minnesota student population,” Carrell said.

UMR officials have made clear that they don’t want growth to come at the expense of qualities that make UMR unique. Those qualities include an intimate learning environment, living learning communities, an integrated curriculum and homework help desks.

UMR’s relative youth makes growth challenging in other respects. Unlike most universities, UMR doesn’t offer four-year scholarships to students, and it has far more limited opportunities for fundraising, given that its oldest alumni are around 30.

Kallsen said the plan does contemplate a modest layout of money for four-year scholarships. UMR also recently hired its first development officer. “We’re going to have to be creative” in creating development opportunities, Kallsen said.

UMR also recruits a specific type of student, one that knows in advance that he or she wants a career in health care. Hence, the need to hire more recruiters to expand the number of high schools UMR recruits from.

“They really have to be more surgical and strategic,” Kallsen said. “They have to find the five high school students in every high school that are really passionate about health care.”