All across the nation, legislators and employers alike are concerned about a shortage of qualified workers. A number of factors are at play in this, including a low unemployment rate, a decreasing pool of high school graduates, a shift in population from rural areas to the Twin Cities metro and a large wave of baby boomer retirements. Over 10 years, the Minnesota economy will need to fill over one million jobs. Complicating an already difficult challenge, 74 percent of those jobs will require postsecondary education.
Minnesota State shares the concerns about this shortage and is partnering with the legislature, business and industry to ensure that Minnesota has the talent it needs to sustain its economic vitality.
This was the topic of a workforce conversation in Hutchinson in October. I would especially like to thank Ridgewater College, Hutchinson High School, 3M, the Hutchinson Economic Development Authority and the Chamber of Commerce for participating in this important discussion.
As I reflect on the conversation, it is clear that in communities across the state, Minnesota State plays a critical role in solving the workforce shortage because our colleges and universities are engaging in two critical strategies: leveraging the strength that exists in the system and fostering strong partnerships with the K-12 sector, business and industry.
Our state colleges and universities work with each other to serve student and workforce needs in a number of ways. Students who complete specific associate degrees at a Minnesota State college can transfer to a Minnesota State university to earn a bachelor’s degree without losing credits or taking extra courses. Collaborative campus and regional planning enhances access to educational opportunities and reduces costs to students and taxpayers. We are pooling our portfolio of noncredit programs into regional enterprises that deliver continuing education, customized training and consultative solutions that better meet the needs of businesses and incumbent workers. By partnering on these initiatives, each Minnesota State college or university provides a door through which business and industry can access the strengths of all 37 colleges and universities across Minnesota.
Our partnerships with K-12 allow us to accomplish even more. We work with schools to offer Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) that allow students to earn college credit while still in high school, and we offer a variety of summer camps and outreach programs that get middle and high school students excited about career opportunities they may not have considered previously. In addition, we work with Adult Basic Education and community-based training organizations to help ensure students are ready for college-level work.
Finally, public/private partnerships are vital to our success, and I would especially like to thank Sen. Scott Newman, Rep. Dean Urdahl and Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen for their participation. A good example of our public/private partnerships is the Workforce Development Scholarships that were funded by the legislature and supplemented by private contributions from business and industry partners.
These innovative partnerships, forged by our colleges and universities in each of their respective communities, provided hundreds of new scholarships for students enrolling in programs with high employer demand — such as advanced manufacturing, agriculture, health care and information technology — and made higher education even more affordable within these high demand industries.
The leveraged equipment program funded by the legislature is another good example. This program has made it possible for Ridgewater College, as well as many other Minnesota State colleges, to give their students hands-on experience with the latest technology.
All of the partnerships showcased during our roundtable are important to the success of the Hutchinson community, to our students’ success and to our success as a system of public higher education. Fundamental to the success of all is our ability to adapt to the disruption that is affecting all sectors of the economy, including higher education.
Building our capacity to adapt and become more creative, innovative and entrepreneurial is a strategic priority for the colleges and universities of Minnesota State. States and communities that will thrive will continue these conversations and ensure opportunities for all.
— Devinder Malhotra is the chancellor of Minnesota State, which includes 30 community and technical colleges and seven state universities serving approximately 375,000 students.