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Sit down with Minnesota state colleges and universities chancellor Steven Rosenstone and you quickly understand the importance of sustainable Minnesota higher education to a sustainable Minnesota workforce. per capita, only Connecticut beats Minnesota in the number of corporate headquarters for fortune 500 companies. we have 19 total, serving nearly as many industries. (and that doesn’t even include privately held companies such as Cargill and Thrivent financial.) but, notes Rosenstone, there’s one big catch. “none of them are tied to a natural resource in Minnesota. They are tied only to our human capital and the culture and infrastructure of what it takes to make this state work.” and that’s where all of Minnesota’s colleges and universities come in.
College grads are more likely to be employed in the state in which they attended college, a fact that colleges and universities around the country rely on, guiding policies and legislation here and in other states.
The data on Minnesota students’ “study-stay” patterns tells a bit of a mixed story. The good news is the majority of Minnesota-raised students are enrolled in Minnesota colleges—65 percent of them. That’s only a few percentage points below the national average.
And the majority of those who go to college here stay here upon graduation. Sixty-six percent of recent graduates from the 17 nonprofit institutions that are members of the Minnesota Private College Council stayed in Minnesota regardless of their home state, says the Council’s John Manning, who described these grads as “adding to the quality of the state’s workforce and tax base.” MnSCU reports that 80 percent of its graduates stay in Minnesota, either for additional college or to work. As for the University of Minnesota’s campuses (minus Morris), 70 percent of graduates from undergraduate programs are employed in Minnesota post-graduation, says Rebecca Hall, program director at the U’s central career administration.
At the University of Minnesota, Morris, where 80 percent of students start college as Minnesota residents, “the majority of our students say they will stay,” says vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean Bart Finzel, echoing what all college and university administrations already know: “Higher education is a magnet. If you can bring students to the state, or keep students in the state, they are much more likely to stay.”
But Not All of Them Stay
Which is why Minnesota’s continued loss of young people to other states over the past decade is so alarming. Yup, we’re a “net exporter” of undergraduates and young college grads to other states, say the Minnesota Private College Council and the Minnesota State Demographic Center. In 2012, more high school graduates attending college left Minnesota than entered it from other states—we incurred a net loss of 5,112 students for that year. Since 2004, we’ve lost a net average of 4,577 students per year, mostly to neighbors South Dakota, North Dakota, and Iowa. (Wisconsin, our state’s biggest Big 10 rival, is a surprisingly distant fourth, due to the fact that we receive many student imports from that fine state, making our net loss there a mere 268 students.)
It’s not just college students who have left, but also young workers with bachelor’s degrees or greater. Between 2007 and 2010 we net exported approximately 2,000 of these educated “degreed talent” workers to other states, says a March 2013 report from the Minnesota State Demographic Center. A little more than a decade ago, we were a net importer of degreed talent. Says the report, “These historical reversals reveal that it is not a given that our state should continue to be a net gainer of young talent. Minnesota should continue to court this highly mobile talent pool.”
How MnSCU Will Keep Them
If attending Minnesota colleges means a greater chance that young talent will remain in-state upon graduation, then attracting students to any of those colleges must be a priority not just of higher education, but also of state and national business and industry, says MnSCU chancellor Rosenstone. “No state in the nation has a labor market that requires more education than Minnesota,” Rosenstone says. “The key to our economic vitality is our workforce. We as a state [need to be] in the business of attracting the best kind of work.”
MnSCU’s own efforts have resulted in an unprecedented partnership with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development. Forty listening sessions with business leaders across industries and across the state were held in April and May of 2013. The goal was to understand Minnesota’s workforce needs and to brainstorm ways in which MnSCU could align graduates’ skills with those needs. In November, MnSCU released a comprehensive report on its findings, including six key recommendations for some big changes at the public technical, community, and four-year colleges in its system. Because MnSCU as a whole serves nearly 200,000 students—almost three times the number of students in the University of Minnesota system—any of these changes will have a tremendous impact on the higher education of Minnesota, as well as the readiness of our citizens for their state’s particular workforce needs.
Some of MnSCU’s recommendations address issues all Minnesota colleges face today—increased success for those traditionally underserved by higher education and increased use of technology to provide more access to classroom instruction, student services, and college advising. Also among the recommendations is a move toward collaboration to drive efficiencies in academic planning and credit transfer across campuses, colleges, and regions. Other recommendations are for fiscal efficiencies (passed on to families and taxpayers) by, for example, encouraging shared services across institutions.
But it is the recommendations that directly affect and connect to our workforce needs that will really make change for our state. MnSCU aims to “foster the award of competency-based credit and degrees,” which, in short, means changing the focus from a sequence of courses to what a graduate actually knows and is capable of. MnSCU also aims to be “the preferred provider of comprehensive workplace solutions” in Minnesota, which means it wants to be the school system with the kind of excellent, educated graduates that employers look to hire first.
Already MnSCU schools across the state have in place some innovative college-business partnerships that achieve this aim, according to MnSCU’s report. The system touts several examples—from HealthForce Minnesota, a partnership between 11 MnSCU schools and just as many health-care providers, to 360° Manufacturing, a consortium of colleges that helps students and workers advance their education online and demonstrate prior knowledge to fast-track their degrees in manufacturing sectors.
How the Others Will Keep Them
Of course, it’s not just Minnesota’s state college system that is working to keep Minnesota’s college students employed in Minnesota—or has a vested interest in doing so. At the University of Minnesota, Morris, agreements with the U of M, Twin Cities have students tracking directly into high-demand master of nursing programs. Environmental studies and environmental science majors also put an academic focus on local sustainability initiatives. The on-campus Center for Small Towns “takes student interns and employs them on behalf of small communities in [Minnesota],” says dean Finzel. “Once students have had that relationship, invariably they want to stay.”
Private colleges across the state also have efforts to keep their college students employed in their local communities, as well as within the state. At College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, a grant-funded partnership between the college and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation means greater opportunities for internships and mentorships with area professionals for graduates. “We hope to increase the number of opportunities for St. Scholastica graduates, as well as graduates from other area colleges and universities who are interested in pursuing careers in the Twin Ports region,” says Sarah Libbon, executive director of marketing for the college. One student who benefitted from that grant-funded partnership, for example, is now the operations development manager at the Duluth Art Institute, an organization he first freelanced for. At St. Catherine University in St. Paul, a 3M internship partnership in place for 15 years has a 100 percent job placement rate for the university’s participants after graduation.
At the University of St. Thomas, “We require all of our [engineering] seniors to participate in the senior design clinic, which matches up our seniors with working engineers and business people who have a need for product development,” says Don Weinkauf, dean of engineering. During this school year alone, more than 100 seniors are engaged in real projects, with real intellectual property potential, and with real Minnesota companies such as Medtronic, Andersen Windows, and the Mayo Clinic.
What All of This Means
For students, such college-workforce integration means homegrown employment opportunities right out of the gate. For Minnesota, it means retention of our best and brightest talent. And for parents and students shelling out thousands of dollars for their education, it means solid return on significant financial investment.
For our 19 Fortune 500 headquarters not tied to our natural resources, it means a reason to stay. Only five of those companies were started in Minnesota. If they are to stay here, our reputation for exceptional human capital will have to live up to its legacy.
“These companies often say to me, ‘Can you give us more?’” says Rosenstone. And then he asks another key question: “If human capital is not the top priority for Minnesota going forward, what is?”