Minority students hold the key to Minnesota’s future. The Citizens League of Minnesota’s 2004 report, “Trouble on the Horizon,” offered several statistics:
The number of white high school graduates is projected to decline by 19 percent in the next 10 years, while the number of minority high school students will increase by 52 percent.
In 2002, Minnesota had an overall high school graduation rate of 82 percent. But the graduation rate for minority students was less than 50 percent.
The number of new jobs in Minnesota requiring at least a bachelor’s degree will increase by an average of 10,500 per year. This accounts for 28 percent of all new jobs.
A worker with a high school degree will earn $15,000 less per year than a worker with a bachelor’s degree.
Between 2000 and 2030, the population share of Minnesotans over 60 years old will increase by at least 90 percent and as much as 140 percent. Most growth in the labor force will be in the 45-64 age range, which will increase by 7 percent. The workforce of 24-44-year-olds will decline by 10 percent.
The racial gap in educational achievement costs the Minnesota economy more than $1.4 billion a year in lost income.
The paper sums it up this way: Minnesota’s economy demands education beyond high school, but our K-12 system does not prepare minorities for higher education. These will be the majority of new students, and Minnesota must improve its ability to educate them.
Two groups – Minnesota College Access Network and the Consortium for Postsecondary Success – are taking the lead to make higher education attainable for minority students.
“A high school diploma is insufficient. The status is low, the salary is low. For most jobs, you must have a postsecondary degree,” said Kent Pekel, executive director of the Consortium for Postsecondary Success at the University of Minnesota.
The Consortium believes K-12 schools should prepare every student for college.
“One hundred years ago, people thought it was crazy to get a high school degree,” Pekel said. “More recently, we believed 20 percent of graduates will go on to college, an expectation that has run very strongly along race and class lines. These ideas aren’t productive anymore.”
Academic rigor is the key to college access. “Rigor does make a difference,” said Jennifer Godinez, director of the Minnesota College Access Network. Taking rigorous classes makes students believe they are college material, she said. “The more that’s expected of a student of color, they will meet that,” she added.
Both MCAN and the Consortium know that career success begins early. Both know that a key to college acceptance is better guidance counseling as early as middle school. Both know that education gains aren’t the responsibility only of teachers, but also of parents, business leaders and the community.
Both know that more minority college graduates will beef up Minnesota’s workforce, which will keep jobs in the state while financing care for older citizens. In addition, more middle-class Minnesotans means fewer on welfare or without health insurance.
But it’s not all about the money. Increasing minority participation in college is the right thing to do. All Minnesotans deserve a quality education no matter their race, no matter the cost, no matter the good effects on our economy.