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Editorial: Invest in MSC Southeast and beyond

The importance of Minnesota State colleges and universities is being driven home this graduation season, when 40,000 students will receive degrees from the system's campuses in 47 communities throughout the state. We're well aware of the system's importance here with MSC Southeast in Red Wing and its sister campus in Winona.

As visitors to any Minnesota State campus can plainly see, however, many of the aging buildings that are critical to teaching students and training employees are falling into a sad state of disrepair — a litany of deferred maintenance projects that Minnesota officials have allowed over the years to balloon to $950 million. To address some of the most critical needs, Minnesota State administrators are asking for asking for a modest $10 million for campus support and $21 million for an information technology system to replace an aging network that is based on an obsolete computer language and falls woefully short of what today's students need and deserve. Of the $10 million sought for campus support, MSC Southeast in Red Wing accounts for $130,000.

Minnesota State trustees recommend $130 million for asset preservation and $94.5 million for bonding projects. MSC Southeast has a "placeholder" of $1.2 million on the system's lengthy statewide list.

"Three years ago our deferred maintenance was $3 million. Now it's $5 million," MSC Interim President Larry Lundblad told the Republican Eagle editorial board.

This is money that will keep students safe, warm and dry and to improve energy efficiency or provide adequate ventilation, for example. The local campus needs a $400,000 backup generator — the importance of which became clear this spring when most of Red Wing lost power. These are basic needs, not frills.

To his credit, Gov. Mark Dayton has recognized the needs of Minnesota State, which serves 375,000 students. His budget request matches the system's $10 million for campus projects and recommends $8.5 million for a new information technology system. But the fate of Minnesota State's budget request — meager in comparison to the magnitude of the acknowledged need — remains disappointingly cloudy in the final days of the Legislature's session.

Let's not forget how vital Minnesota State is to the state's future. It's the largest higher education provider, serving 65 percent of all Minnesota undergraduates through its 30 colleges and seven universities, turning out graduates who are in demand from employers throughout the state. In today's economy, retraining through continuing education is a constant need, a crucial role provided by Minnesota State.

In budget discussions, lots of Minnesota legislators — many with campuses in their districts — have expressed sympathy for the needs of Minnesota State colleges and universities. But the time has come for significant budgetary support from St. Paul, not empty words of sympathy.

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