Steven Rosenstone

Steven Rosenstone

Best Book I’ve Read This Year:
Fearless Leadership by Loretta Malandro

Red, White, or Beer?
Red. But I’m a cheap date, any of them will work.

Favorite Vacation Destination:

I like both.

MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone is focused on being more attentive and accountable to the needs of business while dealing with a large number of students who need remedial help. We asked him what he’s doing about it.


You’ve said that a well-educated workforce is Minnesota’s competitive advantage, yet you are grappling with a student pipeline problem.

We have only three-quarters of Minnesota freshmen graduating from high school in four years, and less than 50 percent of students of color in Minnesota graduating from high school in four years. Secondly, we have a problem when around 12 percent of our university students and 40 percent of our [community and technical] college students need some kind of remedial work before they can begin college-level work.

How are you addressing it?

It’s about getting more students better prepared to begin college-level work when they arrive at one of our institutions. A big step we took last year was in collaboration with [state education] Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, with help from the Legislature, to change the assessment that’s given in the high schools. There will be an assessment that will be normed to college preparedness. So students, parents, schools, teachers, for the very first time will learn: Is [this person] on track to do college-level work?

If you are not on track, we want to start moving all of that remedial education back into high school so that students graduate from high school ready to go. If you are on track and college-ready, we want more access to college-level courses while you are still in high school. Finally, let’s take everything we are learning about future workforce needs and help each student develop an academic plan that aligns not just with their passions and interests, but where the high-demand, high-growth jobs are going to be in Minnesota.

You will not be retested when you get to one of our institutions. We are working collaboratively, so there is one test. Right now you can show up at one of our colleges in August to begin your college-level work and learn for the very first time that you are not college-ready. That’s insane.

MnSCU undertook an ambitious series of listening sessions. Based on what you heard, what are you doing to help align the MnSCU system more closely to the needs of Minnesota employers?

First off, colleges and universities across the state are revising their curriculums and portfolio of academic programs to better address the occupation-specific and technical skills that are needed by employers. Where we identified shortages, we’ve expanded programs; where we are oversupplying, we are starting to trim back programs to make sure that we are responding to what we heard.

Do you have some specifics?

We are also going to be dramatically updating a lot of our equipment to ensure that graduates are trained in the latest technologies so they are prepared when they leave our colleges and universities to go right into the workplace. We heard loud and clear about the need for more hands-on experience. We’re still pushing hard to boost the number of internships. A very big part of what we’re doing to move this forward is under the umbrella of the Itasca Project, where we are working with all sectors of higher education and business partners to build a sustainable system. [This will allow us] to better understand what the future needs are going to be for the workforce so we can do a better job of aligning our academic programs with those needs.

The racial achievement gap in education and employment has been discussed for years in Minnesota. What has to occur to gain traction on this issue?

At our community and technical colleges, the achievement gap when students enter the door is about 19 percentage points between white students and students of color. That’s measured by what percentage of students need remedial education.

How do you address this deficit at MnSCU?

The most important thing that we need to do is to recognize that the kind of education that students need is not the same for every student. We’ve made millions of dollars of investments in programs to not just provide access for diverse communities, but to help ensure their success. So we’ve set ambitious goals for eliminating the gap by 2023.

The strategies here are to push on academic preparedness, make sure that students have financial support to be focusing on their studies and stay in school, and to identify the best practices and multiply them. For us this is not just a matter of doing the right thing, it’s core to delivering the workforce that Minnesota needs.