Her name, I later learned, is Jessica Gascoigne, and she likes personalized learning just fine. She doesn’t have the natural self-confidence of young people who attend famous universities as a matter of birthright, but she’s humming through organic chemistry and is one of only three freshmen who tested out of calculus before starting college. She’s wanted to be a doctor ever since she and her father, a dairy equipment salesman, began sitting on the couch together Thursday nights to watch E.R.
For Gascoigne, the flagship University of Minnesota campus in the Twin Cities seemed monstrously large, and private St. Olaf College was far too expensive. So she commutes twenty-four miles each way to UMR from her 3,000-citizen hometown of Zumbrota (motto: “The only Zumbrota in the world”). She describes her typical weekend as “studying, and cleaning my apartment,” which she shares with her roommate, a hairdresser. This explains the spiky hair.
America’s system of old universities has always done a good job of educating a small percentage of talented and well-off students. But the old system is ill-equipped for Jessica Gascoigne and Chelsea Griffin and hundreds of thousands of other students who need universities that are designed to help them in the way that UMR helps its students. For now, the University of Minnesota’s new Rochester campus is an interesting outlier. If more people can see the true potential of its newness, it will be much more.
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