Commentary: State budget holds keys to college success

This Tuesday’s start to the 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature has me thinking not about the state budget or prospects for bond funding, but about the nearly 6,000 students at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College.

Don’t misunderstand me. The budget that legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton produce this spring will be hugely important for our two schools, as it will be for all 30 colleges and seven universities in the Minnesota State system.

Our funding request will allow us to cover anticipated inflation without increasing tuition over the next two years. A possible bonding bill for capital projects and additional money for renovation could pay for much-needed improvements on both our campuses.

Ultimately, however, what matters most is how those dollars will enable student success, both here and across the state. We look to elected leaders to make the investment necessary to secure their futures.

Transformed by learning and fresh experience, graduates of Bemidji State and Northwest Tech ably fulfill key societal roles and contribute to the vitality of the Bemidji region and all of Minnesota. They are the teachers, nurses, police officers, builders, social workers, aquatic biologists, accountants—and you name it—whom all of us depend on.

As the Legislature does its work, I’ll be asking for your help in obtaining the funds BSU and NTC need to continue graduating outstanding students. Success will allow us to maintain the tutoring, advising and other essential services our students depend on while we continue to provide affordable, high-quality instruction across a wide array of majors.

Specifically, our two schools together seek:

• $5.3 million as part of the Minnesota State system’s total request of $143 million in additional general fund support for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.

• $18.9 million in bond funds to both replace Hagg-Sauer Hall at BSU with a smaller but state-of-the-art academic learning center and renovate other campus buildings to make faculty more accessible to students.

• $10 million for building renovation on the two campuses, including new energy controls and a new roof for Sattgast Hall at BSU and a new air-handling system at NTC.

I look forward to highlighting these priorities for our region’s newly elected legislative delegation, most of whom I met earlier this month at the Bemidji Area Chamber’s legislative luncheon. Along with other BSU-NTC colleagues, I also plan to be among the red-and-black plaid legion who will rally support for local objectives during Bemidji Day in the Capitol on March 1.

I will make a point of emphasizing the accomplishments of our students and graduates, who exemplify the benefits of our academic programs and whose success is always our highest goal and greatest achievement.

The kinds of students I might mention include Haley Scheldorf, a BSU mathematics major from Chokio who as part of her preparation to be a teacher has researched ways to reduce children’s math anxiety; Ben Goltz, a 2015 BSU computer science graduate from Bagley who is a software engineer for Digi-Key Electronics; Andria Raynbird, a 2013 BSU nursing graduate who provides clinical software instruction and support to nurses and other staff at Sanford Bemidji; and Luke Syverson, who recently completed electrical construction training at NTC and went right into a job with Todavich Electric Inc. in Bemidji.

You may not recognize those names, but you undoubtedly know or work with many of our fine graduates—or you are one yourself. Our alums are living, working and contributing throughout the area. We are extremely proud of them, and we are equally proud of the hundreds of students who will graduate this May.

With your support, we will make sure BSU and NTC are equipped to continue producing confident, capable graduates for many years to come.

Faith Hensrud, Ed.D., is president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College.