Winona State's Scott Olson named next chancellor for Minnesota State System
“This is one of the greatest honors of my life,” he said following his appointment. “My family has prospered because of this system, but we can’t rest until every family can say that.”
ST. PAUL — Winona State University President Scott Olson has 20 years of experience within the Minnesota State System of Colleges and Universities, but on Aug. 1, he will take on his most encompassing role yet as the new chancellor for the system.
Minnesota State’s Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Olson to the role during a Tuesday, May 9, meeting, which Olson described as the second greatest honor of his life — the first was marrying his wife.
“This is one of the greatest honors of my life, being part of this system,” Olson said following his appointment. “My family has prospered because of this system, but we can’t rest until every family can say that.”
Among his most pertinent priorities, Olson emphasized the continual need to address affordability. He cited efforts within the state Legislature to freeze tuition and expand free college to more students in the state.
“For Minnesota to become what it can be, we’re going to have to remove affordability as a barrier,” he said. “Our employers are telling us that they can’t get the volume of workers that they need and the only solution to that is to make college more affordable for our students.”
As his first day approaches in three months, Olson’s first steps will include visiting each of the 26 colleges and seven universities in the system to converse with students, faculty and staff.
“The first priority is to get out and around to all campuses, hear the local stories in the communities (each campus) serves, how their needs are being met, and get a firsthand sense of what those needs are so we’re all moving together,” Olson added.
Doing so will be a way for Olson to continue the work of outgoing chancellor Devinder Malhotra, who announced his intention to retire in October 2022 having served the system since 2017.
Following this announcement, a 23-member search committee began its efforts to recommend Malhotra’s replacement. Search firm Greenwood/Asher and Associates spoke with over 290 potential candidates with 33 being invited to submit applications.
The top nine candidates were selected for interviews with the top two — including Olson — selected as finalists.
Following open forums with the top two candidates, Olson was deemed the right fit for the job.
“There’s an opportunity to continue the great work that Chancellor Malhotra has begun … and see it through to its conclusion,” Olson said.
Olson referred to the continued work of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives including the system’s Equity 2030, an initiative to eliminate educational equity gaps at every Minnesota college and university.
Under Olson’s leadership, Winona State University increased enrollment of students of color by 95%, cut outcome gaps almost in half and achieved the highest success rates of students of color among the colleges and universities of Minnesota State.
“When the basic needs of our students are met so they can just be students; when any student, employee and community member feels a sense of belonging, feel that they’re treated equitably; when every student has in the palm of their hand a tool that lets them navigate the complexities of higher education … then the Minnesota miracle is renewed. Then, Minnesota will rise up to the hopes and dreams that we have for it,” Olson said.
Other highlights of Olson’s tenure at Winona State include the completion of several strategic initiatives. These include Education Village, a multi-year capital project to provide integrated, flexible, state-of-the-art learning and teaching spaces for students, teachers, and school professionals.
He co-hosted the Winona Mini-Session of the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2019. He kept involved in the Leading Energy Savings and Sustainability initiative, a $12 million campus-wide project that addressed $7.5 million in deferred maintenance and will save $26 million over the project’s lifetime.
He has also led several strategic initiatives including the development of the Centers of Excellence, transfer pathways and NextGen, a technology system that links the system's campuses together.
“(Olson) has deep roots in Minnesota State and is known throughout the system as a collaborative and strategic leader,” said Minnesota State board chair Roger Moe. “He has amassed an outstanding reputation in every role he has played and has the skills needed to build a common vision of what Minnesota State can become.”
Prior to his appointment to WSU in 2012, Olson served Minnesota State University, Mankato as provost and vice president for academic and student affairs from 2003 to 2012. He also served the Minnesota State system office as interim vice chancellor for academic and student affairs from 2010 to 2011.
“Based on his experience at two universities within Minnesota State, we believe Olson is well equipped to confront the numerous challenges facing our campuses and to continue the important work of closing opportunity gaps through the Equity 2030 initiative,” said Inter-Faculty Association President Jenna Chernega. “Faculty are optimistic for a productive relationship with Chancellor-Designate Olson.”
Previous engagements include Ball State University from 1998 to 2003, and Central Connecticut State University from 1985 to 1998.
Olson holds a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctorate from Northwestern University.