Listen: college tour part 4

As part of a weekly NewsCut focus, MPR’s Bob Collins embarks on a set of college tours to see how the tough economy is impacting young people. In this segment, Collins visits the Worthington Campus of Minneapolis Community and Technical College in Worthington, Minnesota.

MCTC Worthington Campus, on the shores of Lake Okabena, offers liberal arts and sciences programs, including farm management, nursing, and it's quite aggressive in reaching students through online learning.


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TOM CRANN: It's All Things Considered from Minnesota Public Radio News. I'm Tom Crann. We're going to check in again with Bob Collins who, like a good stand-up comedian, is continuing his college tour.

His latest leg took him to Worthington to Minnesota West Community and Technical College. Bob has been visiting one Minnesota college a week for the last several weeks to ask students how the economic downturn is affecting them. And he's been writing about it for his NewsCut blog. Bob, good to see you again.

BOB COLLINS: I'm playing Worthington. I like that.

TOM CRANN: So you spent some time in Worthington at Minnesota West? What kind of place is Minnesota West?

BOB COLLINS: Well, it's a series of several campuses, actually. It's all spread out through Southwest Minnesota. They've got campuses in Canby and Jackson. Worthington Granite Falls. Pipestone.

They do all sorts of programs. They do a lot of online learning because everybody is spread out out there. It's a fascinating place, actually.

TOM CRANN: And what are the big programs?

BOB COLLINS: They have one that I was most interested in hearing from somebody on, who unfortunately never sat down-- they train the people who are taking care of all the windmills.

TOM CRANN: Sure. Wind power. Yeah. Yeah.

BOB COLLINS: And that's one of the great burgeoning businesses in Minnesota. They also do a lot of training for biofuels and research. 169 and 60. That's like ethanol highway. It's just one ethanol plant after another. And so, the economy is doing pretty well, I think, out that way.

TOM CRANN: What did you hear from the students about what they-- how they think the economy is doing?

BOB COLLINS: Well, I always set up a little table in a busy spot at all of these campuses. And I just invite kids, or students, to sit down and just tell me about life and the economic outlook. One of the things I've learned is how many people don't know how much in student loans they've accumulated. That's-- I have asked more people about that after they say, I'm paying for my college.

They don't know how much they owe. They just know they owe a lot. And they all say, I don't want to think about it is what they say.

But I think one of the things that's really impressed me over the weeks that I've been doing this is how much thought students are putting into their careers and keeping their options open. And military service, by the way, is another of these common threads that's starting to come out. I talked to one gentleman Jose Saravia of La Verne. He left for Iraq. He's in the National Guard in Minnesota.

He intended to come home and be a cop because he didn't think there was anything else he could do. But while over there, he decided he wanted to become a nutritionist, or a dietician, in a hospital. And he got a different perspective on the American economy.

JOSE SARAVIA: Being overseas, you see everybody else's-- a different perspective on life. You see-- you take things for granted. All the resources we have here to become successful-- you have a chance.

You have an opportunity here in America. And nobody really-- you see in TV the other countries, how they're not that developed. But when you see it firsthand, and you're living there, it's just-- it's completely a whole new story.

BOB COLLINS: The military is also an option for Carrie Bauer. She's also from Laverne. She's in high school. But in Minnesota, if you're near the top of your class, I guess you can take college courses instead of high school courses and get credit for doing so. That's another way kids are making it affordable.

She saved a lot of money. She says she's actually going to graduate from Minnesota West before she graduates from Laverne High School. She's also joined the National Guard. And she says a lot of her friends have joined the National Guard too.

She's now going to use the GI Bill to eventually pay for law school. And she wants to be a diplomat. And she's going to be going to the University of Tampa.

TOM CRANN: Here's what surprises me. That National Guard threat, especially when we have a war going on on two fronts. And Minnesota's National Guard has certainly done its share of heavy lifting here. It doesn't seem to be discouraging any of these young people from that option.

BOB COLLINS: Well, like Jose, who I talked to, he knows, or suspects, that he's going to end up in Afghanistan pretty soon. It's a two-year rotation in Minnesota. So you've got two years to do whatever you're going to do.

And so, he wants to go to the University of Minnesota now and pursue this either this dietician or nutritionist thing. You've got this Afghanistan thing hanging over your head. But he doesn't seem nonplussed by that at all.

TOM CRANN: What's next? How many more stops on the NewsCut college tour?

BOB COLLINS: Two more stops on the great tour. Next week, we'll be in Duluth on Wednesday at Lake Superior College. And then, the final stop will be a four-year institution at Moorhead State.

TOM CRANN: Bob Collins writes the NewsCut blog for On the blog, you can read and hear some of the stories he's gathered from Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington and the other Minnesota campuses he's been touring as part of the NewsCut college tour. Thanks Bob.

BOB COLLINS: Good to be with you, Tom.

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