After more than a year, Tom Anderson says he finally knows where to go for answers.
Anderson, of Alexandria, serves on the 12-member Board of Regents for the University of Minnesota. He was elected to the board in March of 2015.
"I'm still learning," he said in an interview with the Echo Press last Monday. "There is a lot to learn and a lot of different departments - education, athletics, research, the medical school. But now, after a year, I finally know where to go and that's kind of neat."
About six days per month, Anderson is in the Twin Cities, whether for board meetings, committee meetings or informational meetings.
As a member on the Board of Regents, Anderson, along with the other 11 members, is responsible for numerous decisions for the university, including a $4 billion dollar budget.
When asked what the board is currently working on, Anderson explained that about 25 years ago, when the advent of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) began, the university's medical school started a partnership with Fairview Hospital. He noted it was a great arrangement because it allowed money to be given back to the medical school for training future doctors and nurses.
"In today's day and age, with the Affordable Care Act, it's not the best system to operate in," Anderson said. "We are in discussions to try and find a new solution. We've announced an integration of Fairview Hospital and the medical school and that will probably be the biggest thing moving forward."
Another big issue the Regents are working on is tuition, which Anderson noted is always a hot topic. Currently, the university and its satellite locations (Crookston, Duluth, Morris and Rochester) serve about 70 percent Minnesota students and about 30 percent of students from other states.
"Our mission is to take care of Minnesotans," Anderson said. "We would like to raise the tuition for out-of-state students, which could potentially reduce the tuition for Minnesota kids."
He explained that the university wants to create enough demand of its programs that it could potentially receive higher revenue from students from out of state. The U of M is by far the lowest, he noted, when it comes to the "Big Ten" schools, including the universities of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland, Iowa and Nebraska, along with Pennsylvania State, Michigan State, Rutgers, Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue.
"We believe we can raise that," Anderson said of having the lowest tuition for out-of-state students.
For the 2015-16 school year, non-Minnesota residents attending the University of Minnesota paid about $22,000 in tuition and fees, which is roughly $23,000 less than what out-of-state students pay when they attend the University of Michigan. Michigan is the highest of the "Big Ten" schools.
When talking about tuition, noted Anderson, it is about creating a balance.
The taxpayers pay a portion, the students pay some and then demand must be created so that students from other states pay a portion, Anderson explained.
"The more our government would appropriate for higher education, however, the less our kids would have to pay," he said, quickly adding, "They [the Legislature] have their challenges and have all sorts of things to take care of. They work hard and we know that."
Anderson stated that last week, the Board of Regents approved raising the tuition for both in-state and out-of-state students. On the Twin Cities campus, there was a 2.5 percent increase, while there was a freeze on the satellite campuses. For non-Minnesota residents, however, tuition was raised by 7.5 percent.
The higher tuition costs will go into effect this fall, he said.
"My vision someday," Anderson added about tuition, "is to lower the cost for Minnesota kids and raise the cost for non-Minnesota kids."
Other issues the Board of Regents is dealing with, according to Anderson:
• Overall campus development - this includes deciding what to do with buildings, what to tear down, what to build, where new dorms will go, if new dorms need to be built, etc.
• Qualifications for new students to be accepted into the university.
• Research and development. The university partners with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Extension Office and the Department of Natural Resources.
• Mental health issues among students. Anderson believes there is a deeper problem that needs to be addressed and that mental health will be on the front burner as the university moves forward. He noted the U of M has its own health services and the board just increased its funding for more counselors.
"If students are having problems, we want them to be able to see someone," Anderson stressed. "We are in discussions about putting counselors into the dorms so that students could have access at all times."
Anderson concluded by saying it is an honor for him to serve on the Board of Regents.
"On the board, there are always 12 differing opinions and all of them are valid, but sometimes we move in different directions," he said. "There is a very Twin Cities-centric mindset, and sometimes I have to remind them that the state doesn't end to the west of Rogers. They get a kick out of that and they understand."
WHAT'S A REGENT?
The University of Minnesota's 12-person Board of Regents governs the state's largest university, with more than 67,000 students on five campuses. Its budget is roughly $4 billion. Regents serve six-year terms and are not paid.