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Educational opportunities explored in Park Rapids

M State

Providing quality education to future workers in Park Rapids remains a priority among many area business leaders.

The Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission (HCREDC) Business Education Group met Thursday to discuss an M State initiative launched over the past several years in Park Rapids and the future presence of the organization in the community.

The M State initiative came out of a discussion among the business community that Park Rapids needed more of an education presence. Monetary pledges were received from the business community to help bring credit classes through M State to Park Rapids.

"The whole effort has been very beneficial for Park Rapids," said HCREDC executive director David Collins.

Credit classes were offered in Park Rapids for two semesters. While several people took advantage of the opportunity to earn credits locally the enrollment numbers weren't high enough.

Classes were averaging between 10 and 13 students and 18 students was the "break even" number to offer a class. The classes have been subsidized to be able to offer them.

Many positives have come out of the initiative despite low enrollment.

"We may not have had the volume but we had some great students," said Helene Hedlund, M State's Dean of Academics.

In addition, the M State presence brought some customized training to Lamb-Weston RDO Frozen and Hubbard County employees.

Collins said if the credit classes don't continue he would still like M State to have a presence in Park Rapids through these types of programs.

"We would still like to have an academic advisor here on occasion to meet with students, maybe have parent nights," he added.

Others at Thursday's meeting weren't ready to abandon the idea of credit classes and wanted some more research done to try and fill the gap.

Ryan Zemek, development specialist with Headwaters Regional Development Commission, said already the goal of the initiative has been met.

"The outcome was to have an improved workforce and we got there," he said of the customized training offered in the community.

M State academic advisor Mark Nelson agreed that the initiative has been successful.

"I spent a lot of busy Wednesdays over here," he said of his time advising students. "The excitement for me was to work with those who found a way to take classes who couldn't travel out of town, took a chance and spread the word to others."

The Park Rapids initiative with M State is unique and has not been done in other communities, Hedlund said.

"You're already ahead of a lot of communities," she said.

Several business leaders attended the meeting and said they offered some benefits to their employees to take classes but there weren't a lot of takers.

Northwoods Bank president Mark Hewitt, for example, offered his employees free tuition but without the promise of a raise or promotion most didn't think it was worth their time.

The education group decided it wants to do some more research before it abandons offering credit classes. The group wants to invite Park Rapids Area School District representatives to the table to be part of the discussion.

The group will meet in a few weeks to determine the direction of the presence of M State in Park Rapids.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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