In bid for more cash, U of M prez takes shot at 2-year schools

We get what University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler was trying to say today when he appeared to disrespect the students who attend community college.

He was reacting to a DFL proposal to provide two years of free tuition at two-year community and technical colleges.

It won’t help the state’s production of future doctors, dentists and other health care professionals, he said.

Kaler wants a piece of the action and thinks higher education should be supported more broadly. We get it.

But he misfired on his assertion, especially with regard to health care professionals, many of whom — particularly nurses — attend two-year colleges. Many go on to get four-year degrees at other campuses. So it’s wrong to suggest that two years of free tuition wouldn’t make a difference. It would, but only if the programs were expanded. Getting into a nursing program at a two-year school in Minnesota, for example, is very difficult.

The one thing we learned a few years ago when we did our NewsCut on Campus series (a direct link to which is no longer possible thanks to the redesign of NewsCut last year, but you can read about the project on page 16 here), is that many students take courses that would be required at the U of M at a two-year school for a fraction of the cost of a four-year school and then transfer to the four-year school, saving plenty of money in the process.

Besides, who’s to say big things can’t come from a small school?

It’s happened before. Lots of times.

Take Elaine Collins, who logged more than 872 hours in space as an astronaut. She got her associates degree at a community college in math and science before going on to a four-year school. She did OK.

Daniel Hayes, the transplant surgeon, went to a community college in South Carolina to start his academic career.

Craig Venter, one of the first scientists to map the human genome in 2001? Community college grad.

Marcella Jones restarted her academic career in 1988 at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. She eventually transferred to the University of Minnesota, where she graduated magna cum laude with a mathematics degree and a minor in computer science. She went on to earn a master’s degree in math, according to the college. Now she teaches.

Some students become cops or auto technicians or plumbers or HVAC experts. Some will go on to be something else.

For all of them, it’s a start. And if you believe that higher education is impossible if you can’t get a foot in the door, you can’t dismiss the possibilities and dreams by suggesting they can only happen by starting at a big school. Without the door being opened by community colleges and two-year schools, a lot of kids would never make it to President Kaler’s place.

Related: A degree without the green? (

Free community college is the wrong idea (Star Tribune).

Tom Hanks: “I owe it all to community college (New York Times).