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Taconite taxes fund $820,000-merger of 5 community colleges

(The Center Square) – Taconite taxes will provide $820,000 for the merger of Northeast Higher Education District’s five community colleges.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees has approved the merger of Hibbing Community College, Itasca Community College, Mesabi Range College, Rainy River Community College, and Vermilion Community College, Minnesota State announced in a news release Wednesday. On May 23, they will become Minnesota North College.

The Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board in October 2020 unanimously approved funding the merger with $820,000 from the Iron Range Higher Education Account. Under Minnesota state law, five cents per taxable ton of taconite is deposited into the higher education account for programs in the Taconite Assistance Area.

That is the whole of the spending for the merger, Northeast Higher Education District Executive Director of Advanced and Customized Training Trent Janezich told The Center Square in an emailed statement Thursday.

He said the most important benefit they expect the merger to provide is improved services for students and stakeholders. Colleges won’t be competing for students with separate recruiting strategies, he said. The move will make the institution a much more nimble, unified organization, he said.

“While we expect that the single-college model will lead to improved operational efficiency and direct cost savings over time, cost savings is typically tied to enrollment and state appropriation and sometimes hard to quantify,” he said. “We are excited, however, that we will have the ability to reinvest any realized savings in mission-centric teaching and learning activities more often moving forward.”

He said the merger has been in planning since 2015. They will continue working with their campuses’ collective bargaining units to reposition existing employees, he said.

“There have not been layoffs due to this merger and there are not layoffs planned as a result of the Minnesota State Board of Trustees’ recent decision,” he said.

Minnesota North College President Michael Raich said in the release that the college will pilot systems over the summer before welcoming the first full cohort of Minnesota North students this fall. The campuses will all remain open.

Through the merger, students will have more access to courses and career programs and complete just one application and have one transcript for all of them, the release said. The single-college model will help collaborations with regional K-12 and industry partners and allow resources to be focused more on mission, it said.

“Working regionally, Minnesota North College will be able to provide a comprehensive response to our business and industry partners, which aligns with our new vision of being a catalyst for regional prosperity,” Reich said.

The schools’ enrollment has fallen about 35% since 2011, Inside Higher Ed reported in February 2020.

Taconite assistance areas are in school districts of municipalities in which assessed value of unmined iron ore in May 1941 was at least 40% of the value of all real property or which as of 1977 had taconite concentrating plants, mining or facilities.


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