OWATONNA — On Wednesday, Cardinal Stritch University officials met with community leaders to discuss a new program and to reinforce its commitment to Owatonna.

Cardinal Stritch, located in Milwaukee, Wis., recently announced plans to partner with Riverland Community College to offer a 2+2 program in Owatonna — a program that allows a student to earn a business management degree without leaving the area. Riverland students would be able to, after acquiring an associate’s degree, transfer into the Cardinal Stritch business management program and take all of their classes in Owatonna.

On Wednesday, Riverland and Cardinal Stritch officials were discussing the new Business Management program with community leaders. From 4 to 6 p.m. on April 10, there will be an information session for prospective students.

Officials from Riverland and Cardinal Stritch emphasized a long-term partnership. Cardinal Stritch signed a long-term lease and has made a commitment to the program in Owatonna. In previous years, Riverland students could take classes in Owatonna from four-year schools — Minnesota State University, Mankato, Crown College, Concordia-St. Paul — but many of those partnerships were dissolved.

“We used to have a lot of four-year colleges on our sign out there, and little by little, thanks to online and other ways, they have departed us,” said David Hietala, dean of academic affairs for Riverland.

“The partnership with Cardinal Stitch is big. It really is. We are going to see some real stability and staying power,” he continued. “From the former colleges, we weren’t seeing that kind of commitment.”

While many area universities, which previously held classes in Owatonna, decided online courses could keep their Owatonna-area students enrolled, James Chitwood, regional vice-president for Cardinal Stritch, said the university believes strongly in classroom instruction.

“Online is an option, but we are focused on face-to-face education in this (Owatonna) building for this community and Riverland students,” Chitwood said.

Hietala said Cardinal Stritch’s mission to place professors in front of students was a big selling point to the partnership.

“Online was the reason others left. It’s not to say (Cardinal Stritch) wouldn’t use online because that is the technology of our day, but I think they have that classroom emphasis, the one-on-one with the students is what they emphasize.”

The goal is to register 16 to 20 students for the business management program by June 20. Classes begin a week later. Chitwood said students who study business management learn how to “manage people.”

A main objective of the new partnership is enhance and sustain the economic development and viability of the Owatonna community and southern Minnesota region. On Wednesday, Riverland and Cardinal Stritch hope to talk to local businesses about setting up tuition reimbursement for employees.

“Riverland Community College is dedicated to serving their community and wanted to offer potential students a way to start and finish an affordable four-year business degree without needing to leave their community,” Hietala said. “This equal partnership will benefit not only the potential students, but also the community as a whole, offering companies the opportunity to advance their employees with no interruption to work flow while simultaneously building a sustainable community.”

After selling the program to Owatonna community leaders, the university next turns its eyes to prospective students. Riverland alumni get a 15 percent discount on tuition. Cardinal Stritch charges $455 a credit hour. The two-year business management program requires about 60 to 64 credits to graduate. The number fluctuates because students may get college credit for previously completed courses.

If interest is high enough in the business management program, additional instructors would be brought in from one of the other four Cardinal Stritch learning locations in Minnesota.

Peter Holbrook, dean of the College of Business and Management, said he hopes to also bring a Cardinal Stritch nursing program and master’s program in business management to Owatonna. He added the nursing program could be up and running as early as fall 2013.

Cardinal Stritch students go to class once a week for four hours and most classes last five to six weeks. Mike Peterson previously attended Riverland before transferring to Cardinal Stritch in Rochester 18 months ago. He said the once-a-week classes work well for adult students. The average age of students in the Cardinal Stritch weekly program is 28.

“You do the five-week course and when it finishes you get ready for the next one,” Peterson said. “The only real breaks you get are spring break and Christmas. Once you get in the groove of it, it’s not that bad. It’s time management. You develop it. It’s your daily routine. It’s like exercise. When you start doing it, you keep doing it.”

Riverland and Cardinal Stritch are both accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan

Reach reporter Derek Sullivan at 444-2372, or follow him on Twitter @OPPSullivan

People's Press education/politics/arts reporter