Minnesota Life College is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1996 by Bev and Roe Hatlen, co-founders of Old Country Buffet. One of the Hatlen's children had a developmental disability, and upon graduation of high school had only a handful of schools like MLC to choose from, all scattered across the United States. It was at that time that the Hatlen's decided to start a post-secondary school for young adults with learning disabilities, since one did not already exist in Minnesota, and it was at this time that Minnesota Life College was opened.
Minnesota Life College is an apartment living innovative life skills instructional program for young adults whose learning disabilities pose serious challenges to their independence. Minnesota Life College is not like a traditional University or College. The education the students at MLC receive has more to do with teaching life skills instead of contemporary educational subject matter. MLC stresses skill acquisition in independent living, social development, vocational readiness, decision-making, and fitness and wellness. All of this can be summed up in the mission statement:
The Mission of Minnesota Life College is to prepare young adults with learning disabilities to achieve personal and financial self-sufficiency.
The program at Minnesota Life College is split into three phases. The Core Phase, which is for first and second year students, the Transition Phase, which is for third year students, and the third phase, the Community Living Program.
The core phase is the beginning of the program for all new students. During the core phase, students set individual goals based on an evaluation of their strengths, abilities and interests. Over the course of two years, the students begin to learn and practice self-management and social skills they may be lacking or having trouble in. Also during the core phase, students practice employment skills, fitness and nutrition, personal financial management, self-esteem building, and leadership opportunities. During the core phase, students live in a two-bedroom apartment that is shared with three other roommates.
Upon completion of the core phase, students move into the transition phase. During the transition phase, students continue to practice the skills needed for healthy, independent living. Despite holding jobs, participating in internships, and/or attending a traditional postsecondary educational institution, transition students continue to live with MLC roommates on campus and maintain their involvement in MLC activities. After completion of the transition phase, students are considered to have graduated from Minnesota Life College.
Upon completion of the transition phase, Minnesota Life College graduates have gained the skills needed to live on their own. However, the graduate living program is an additional program for graduates who needed extra, more specific help and support. Graduates and their parents are able to select services such as job placement and job coaching, recreation and alumni activities, and case management. While participating in the graduate living program, graduates live independently on campus in apartments separate from the core and transition students.
Minnesota Life College offers its students much more than just a challenging class schedule. Fun and motivating activities, many planned by the students themselves, are an everyday part of life at MLC.
From video nights in the student rec center to field trips to a Minnesota Twins game, students have a wide variety of opportunities to develop lifelong friendships while enjoying new experiences. To ensure the health and wellness of the students, they are required to participate in a fitness program at a local health club at least three times a week.
At MLC, the "differences" that set the students apart in their K-12 educational programs now become the common bond that brings them together. The students learn that others share similar challenges and, often for the first time, they gain the confidence it takes to succeed.
In 2004, MLC held its first benefit to raise money for the students and program. Since then, once a year, usually at the end of April, MLC holds a benefit to raise money for the program. The Gala, as it is commonly referred, raises money to help with scholarships for families in need of assistance, as well as support program costs. It consists of both a silent and live auction, accompanied by a formal sit down meal and various speakers, including students in the program. In the past, the event has been emceed by a local celebrity in the community (such as KARE/11 news anchor Julie Nelson in 2004 and 2005).