Business and civic groups help shape Minnesota higher ed policy
In recent years, higher education policy has gone from a wonky topic discussed by insiders to something discussed around dinner tables and the office water cooler. Higher education’s rising profile in Minnesota is due to several business and civic groups’ interest in the subject; they’ve demonstrated this interest through the release of reports and recommendations on what state policies they believe are needed to support higher education institutions, students and workforce development.
As we head into the 2013 legislative session, four groups’ ideas will likely help shape Minnesota’s higher education policy. Several themes appear frequently in the groups’ proposals:
- more collaboration between employers and higher education to better align college offerings to workforce needs,
- an expansion of post-secondary education options (PSEO) in high school and
- ensure that students have access to affordable higher education throughout their lifetime, whether to finish a degree or start a new one.
Here are some of the specifics of each group’s reports and recommendations:
The Itasca Project
The Itasca Project, a collaboration of the state’s top CEOs, recommends four focus areas on the theme of collaboration between higher education, the business community and the state. In "Higher Education Partnerships for Prosperity,” the group recommends that Minnesota:
- align academic offerings with workforce needs,
- create an environment that encourages research and innovation,
- form new collaborations across higher education to optimize system-wide assets and efficiency and
- graduate more students from higher education.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce recommendations include:
- align K-12 academic standards and assessments more closely with college admission requirements,
- expand postsecondary education options (PSEO) for high school students and integrate career and workforce awareness into the K-12 system,
- expand performance-benchmarked funding and improve cost control efforts in higher education,
- aim to produce more certificates and degrees in areas demanded by workforce needs,
- improve affordability of higher education for students, including spending 30 percent of the higher education budget on student aid,
- reduce the amount of remedial education needed and attempt to better utilize students’ prior learning,
- emphasize public investment in research and technology and its role in the economy and
- encourage the business community to take on a larger role in producing skilled workers.
The Center for Policy Studies
In October 2012, the Minnesota-based Center for Policy Studies released a report by Curt Johnson, “From Lagging to Leading: Making Minnesota Postsecondary Education a National Model.” The report states that:
- Minnesota should move to a proficiency and outcomes platform and create a learner-centered system,
- postsecondary educational options (PSEO) programs should be explained earlier and made more accessible to a broader array of students, with the Office of Higher Education possibly taking the lead in doing this and
- access to online learning and opportunities should be increased for all students and online learning should be geared to proficiency documentation.
The Citizens League
The Citizens League, a civic group, is also working to identify critical issues in the state’s workforce and higher education. Now the Citizens League is focusing on two areas where improvement is needed: the manufacturing skills gap and degree completion among adults who already have some college credits.
The Citizens League also recommends improving the choices that Minnesotans have in terms of higher education and optimizing students’ time in the higher education system. It has begun work on three new projects in order to work toward these goals:
- a “Return on Investment” website helping students understand the financial effects their educational and career decisions may have,
- a “Cost of Credits” project that attempts to quantify how much money is spent when students change career paths and are left with nontransferable credits and
- an effort to remove biases surrounding career and technical education that will help students make better and more cost-effective career choices.