Kaler sits down with the Times before delivering address to UMC graduates

    The 50th Commencement ceremony for the University of Minnesota Crookston was held Saturday in the Lysaker Gymnasium and University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler addressed the Class of 2017.

    Before his commencement speech, Kaler visited with students, faculty, staff, families of graduates and the media during the Pre-Commencement Reception in the Northern Lights Lounge of the Sargeant Student Center.

    Here’s a snapshot of the Q&A sit-down Kaler conducted with the Times:

    Jess Bengtson - Let’s dive right in and talk about your hopes as President of the University of Minnesota system and what you would like to see from our state legislature. Were you happy or unhappy with what was allocated?

    President Kaler - “We were hopeful and grateful for the allocation of the $18 million we received, which a majority went to family health residency and central training docs for working in Minnesota, and the rest to the National Resource Research Institute. Those are investments that benefit Greater Minnesota. We were disappointed that there was no allocation for operating the university overall. If that’s not fixed, we will need to put forth a substantial tuition increase for the University of Minnesota; somewhere around 5 percent for the Twin Cities campus and close to 1 percent for UMC. We really don’t want to do that. Our state and economy benefit from having well-educated people. If we received around $60 million towards operation costs, it would help minimize tuition increases.”

    JB - Student loan debt is a hot topic around the country and you hear more and more about how the interest alone is causing graduates to fall hard under debt, or feel that they can’t come out on top of what will be a long road ahead of large payments. What are your thoughts and what do you think could help?

    Kaler - “Going to college is an investment in yourself. You read about the horror stories of some students graduating with six figures of loan debt, and you feel personally connected to them and responsible for it. It’s certainly a challenge for people who go to graduate school like veterinarians. It also depends on where you get your loans from. It really is a national challenge. However, the default rate at the U of M is very small and there are programs out there like loan forgiveness and interest can be deductible. It is a challenge in our society that ought to be fixed.”

    JB - UMC will soon have a new chancellor, Mary Holz-Clause. What are your hopes for her and anything you’d like to see her tackle and/or accomplish as soon as she gets here?

    Kaler - “One thing to always keep an eye on is overall enrollment. That will be one of the top things she will be focused on. Right now, UMC is about equally split between online and in person with their 1,800+ students. We would like to see closer to 2,000 students for our budget review. A modest increase would be a good thing and good for campus life. I hired Mary for a couple reasons. She understands Crookston after being in Iowa for agriculture and her experience, background and entrepreneurism are a good fit. We would like to see her gather ideas from students and faculty and connect with outreach and extension services to become even more entrepreneurial. I want Mary to come to UMC and immerse herself and develop her own list of what’s important and what projects will be at the top of the list. From a budget point of view, we need to continue to have Crookston be competitive for tuition and provide additional financial aid but we can’t do that without more support from the state.”

    JB - What are some things you hope for with the University of Minnesota system as a whole looking into the immediate future?

    Kaler - “We really need to pay attention to the bonding bill; we have infrastructure needs. We had an element in the bonding request for funding re-purposing of spaces including some at UMC. Here, particularly, there’s a 1,000 square foot room here that isn’t usable in its current form and could be re-purposed for a laboratory for students. That bonding bill is really important to the university.”