Critical need for college opportunities


College graduates earn more, pay more in taxes, are less likely to use taxpayer-funded programs like welfare or Medicaid and spend less time in the law enforcement, justice and prison systems. Unfortunately, statistics point to fewer college opportunities for Minnesota students.

* The number of Minnesota college graduates will decline by 11.2 percent over the next ten years

* The number of jobs in Minnesota requiring some college education will grow by 21 percent from 2002 to 2012, while jobs requiring only a high school education will grow by 12 percent

* In 2000, Minnesotans over age 65 represented 12 percent of our population. By 2030, the number of senior citizens will grow to 21 percent.

* By 2017 Minnesota workforce growth and the replacement of retiring seniors will create a demand for college-educated workers that exceeds the number of graduates by 13,000 per year

Learnmore, a coalition of private and education groups, has taken up the task of getting high school students to graduate, go to college and stay in college until they earn a degree.

Based in St. Paul, Learnmore is an alliance of businesses, higher education and service groups. The Minnesota Private College Council has taken the lead and has been joined by several partners, including St. Paul Travelers Foundation and the Foundation for Higher Education.

The group has co-produced a television show, “Vanishing Graduates and Minnesota’s Future,” which features education experts, business leaders and students discussing the state’s education challenges. The show can be seen on Twin Cities Public Television’s Minnesota Channel and on Learnmore’s web site, The next airing is May 11 at 7:30 p.m. on TPT Channel 17.

“We need to be the state that uses its brainpower when we don’t have the brawn-power anymore,” said Peter Hutchinson, Bush Foundation president. “But you can’t do that if you don’t have kids graduating from high school, enrolling in college and completing college successfully.”

The show uses statistics to bring harsh realities to light. It shows that by 2013, racial/ethnic groups will be 21 percent of Minnesota’s high school graduates – a 52 percent increase in minority students and a 19 percent decrease in white students compared with 2003 levels. However, while 15 out of 100 Asian/Pacific Islanders and 14 out of 100 white 9th graders will graduate from high school and then complete a bachelor’s degree, only three out of 100 American Indian students, four out of 100 black students and five out of 100 Hispanics will get a bachelor’s degree.

Workers without college degrees will be at a tremendous disadvantage in the future. Minnesota’s high-tech industry is one of its strongest segments. The state ranked ninth in the U.S. with more than $4.1 billion in high-tech exports in 2002, and had the second-largest electromedical equipment manufacturing industry by employment. The state was also fifth in computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing employment, seventh in the number of measuring and control instruments manufacturing jobs, and 17th in high-tech employment overall. The high-tech sector employed 147,368 people in 2003.

Salaries show the disparity between jobs typically held by college graduates and those held by high school dropouts. In 2007, computer and information scientists earned an average of $56.99 an hour; computer and information systems managers, $51.88 an hour; biomedical engineers, $38.00 an hour; chemists, $30.47 an hour. Meanwhile, automotive body and repairers earn $20.24 an hour; automotive service technicians and mechanics, $17.44 an hour; construction laborers, $19.54 an hour; construction workers, $15.42 an hour; cashiers, $8.77 an hour; waiters and waitresses, $7.69 an hour.

Learnmore continues to take the lead in promoting college education. It has thrown its support behind several education initiatives, including the Minneapolis Board of Education’s strategic plan to increase overall student achievement, address the achievement gap, and aim to prepare all students for college; the 2007 “Bridge to Higher Learning” report from the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals to prepare every student to earn a degree at a postsecondary educational institution; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation “Model High Schools,” profiles of more than 20 schools that serve as models of what is working; the 2006 University of Minnesota “Circles of Influence in Family Development: Educational Disparities,” which looks at the influences underlying educational disparities; the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership’s 2006 “State of Students of Color,” which offers six recommendations to improve education for students of color.

Added Tony DelDotto, a senior associate with United Properties, “I think there’s a bubble that is building and it is about to break. We really need to pay more attention to it, because from an economic perspective … people are our biggest resource, especially in Minnesota, and we need to invest in those resources so 20 years from now, we’re going to have great capital to draw from.”