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Our View: Saint Mary’s University expansion is welcome

October 9, 2018

The inauguration of a new university president is always a big deal, and that was especially the case Saturday when the Rev. James Burns became the new president of Saint Mary’s University in Winona.

Burns, who came to Winona from Boston College, is the 14th president in the history of Saint Mary’s. He takes office as Saint Mary’s, which has experienced solid growth in recent decades, looks poised to expand its presence in Rochester.

The university recently announced it will launch a 3 + 2 undergraduate/graduate physicians assistant program in Rochester, in cooperation with Mayo Clinic. The program will be housed at the university’s Cascade Meadows facility, which recently underwent a $4.4 million, 10,000-square-foot expansion. The building was donated to Saint Mary’s by Jack and Mary Ann Remick.

What’s next for Saint Mary’s in Rochester? Officials, including Burns, have been noncommittal so far in regard to specifics. “I definitely think it will grow,” Burns said of the Rochester campus in a Post-Bulletin interview.

The university’s graduate and undergraduate programs currently enroll 350 students in Rochester. Burns made it clear there won’t be a pell-mell race to increase that enrollment.

“We really want to create that unique boutique feel that the students have come to know and love about Saint Mary’s, that they have that individualized attention.”

The Cascade Meadow site gives Saint Mary’s its own location and identity after three decades of renting space at Rochester Community & Technical College.

What isn’t new is the piecemeal nature of higher education in Rochester. Each of the institutions serving students here has carved out a niche market. There are well-focused programs, but no single, comprehensive university.

That’s not likely to change. Much of higher education today is designed to deliver to students (and their parents) career-centered programs in the most economical way possible.

That, apparently, is what most consumers desire, and that’s what the physicians assistant program at Saint Mary’s-Rochester promises.

“We’re accelerating this for these kids,” Scott Walker, Saint Mary’s associate vice president, said. “It’s going to save them on dollars. It’s going to get them out in the workforce a lot quicker.”

Traditionalists might argue with that philosophy of higher education. But Saint Mary’s doesn’t plan for its Rochester campus to be traditional. The city is not, at least at this point, that kind of higher ed marketplace.

With that in mind, we’re anxious to see what Father Burns and his administration come up with next for Saint Mary’s University in Rochester.

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