ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The new chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system officially began work Monday, but he has already covered thousands of miles to learn more about the system’s 31 colleges and universities.

“I’ve been on the road for about four months, and I have logged about 4,000 miles,” Chancellor Steven Rosenstone told Minnesota Public Radio News.

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After spending 15 years at the University of Minnesota, Rosenstone has been giving himself a crash course in the disparate system that includes the sort of vocational training he didn’t often see at the university.

Take Southeast Technical, a typical MnSCU technical college, which offers auto body repair, nursing, accounting and massage therapy. The school also offers distinct programs, such as musical instrument repair, that are only available in a few places around the country, President Jim Johnson said.

“Chancellor Rosenstone’s biggest challenge is going to be to get to know the different levels of institutions within our system,” he said.

Rosenstone, who was appointed chancellor in February by the Board of Trustees, has promised to help Minnesota’s two higher education systems work more closely together, but he doesn’t plan to try to remake MnSCU in the image of the state’s flagship university.

“We have very different missions and very different roles to play in the state of Minnesota,” Rosenstone said.

Instead, he said his goal is to improve the quality of every school in the system. He wants MnSCU’s four-year universities to be at the top of the wish list for graduating seniors, not as fallbacks in case they don’t get into the University of Minnesota.

“That our colleges and universities become the destination of choice,” he said. “It’s the place (students) want to go for their college education.”

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Winona State University President Judith Ramaley said she supports Rosenstone’s vision of making MnSCU universities a “destination of choice,” but said there’s more to it than distinctive academic programs.

Winona State markets atmosphere alongside its programs, including a new residence hall that looks more like a hotel than a college dorm.

“They care about the course of study. But they care more about what it means to be here,” Ramaley said. “How beautiful is the campus? How friendly are the people? How good is the reputation of the school?”

Darrell Downs, a political science professor at Winona State, said he thinks there’s a developing image problem for the system. Too often the public and lawmakers treat the 31 universities, colleges and technical schools as one entity, he said, not as separate institutions with separate missions.

“If we continue to go along kind of a one-size-fits-all way of thinking from the top down, it’s not going to be successful for anybody,” Downs said.

Downs’ challenge for Rosenstone was to identify the strengths and needs of each of the MnSCU colleges. Be supportive, he said, but don’t get in the way.

Leading by decree isn’t his style, Rosenstone said.

“They’re not conversations that will occur by a lightning bolt coming out of the new chancellor’s office,” Rosenstone said. “Instead they’re conversations that will occur by people working together across the system to find the best way to move forward as partners on behalf of Minnesota’s future.”

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