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Why Minnesota needs a specific goal and a deadline for higher education completion

Date Published: 04/11/2011

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Parents say it, business leaders and sports team coaches pound on it, and we all know this truism is true: We all perform better with goals and deadlines.

I think baseball legend and malaprop master Yogi Berra said it best: "If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else." Or as David Metzen, former director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education under Gov. Tim Pawlenty told us last year, "You run faster if you have a goal and a stopwatch than you do if you have neither."

At Growth & Justice, a policy research organization focused on broadening prosperity in Minnesota, the goal and the stopwatch for higher education attainment is our top public policy priority. We are leading an effort to convince state leaders to establish an official goal for a 75% post-high-school completion rate for Minnesota by the end of this decade. This means that by 2020, 75% of our young adults (by the age of 25) will have acquired some form of post-secondary educational diploma or certificate.

Right now, only about half our workforce at that age has reached this goal. It's important to note that we are not necessarily talking about bachelor's degrees or even two-year associate degrees. An accredited certificate as Home Care Health Aide or in Child Development, for instance, would count as attainment under our goal-setting metrics.

And although it may seem obvious to most of us that striving for and reaching this goal is a good thing, and that knowledge improves our inherent human worth, here's the hard-headed business sense on why this is important. While Minnesota is fortunate to be home to a "smarter" and more productive economy than most states, our distinctive prosperity and quality-of-life won't continue unless we reinforce our proud culture of maximizing educational achievement and attainment. A mountain of evidence shows a strong and direct and growing correlation between education and personal income, education and productivity, education and health, education and civic engagement, and education and broad socio-economic vitality.

In a competitive global economy that is demanding smarter workers and ever greater technological skill, we have no choice. And although that 75% goal may look a little arbitrary, we know it's in the ballpark of what we need. A recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that Minnesota will need 70% of its workforce to have post-secondary training by the year 2018. Here's a direct quote from the report: "The District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota and Washington state will lead the nation in job openings requiring postsecondary education."

Many groups and leaders are rallying around this goal-setting, nationally and in Minnesota. President Obama, noting that the United States has lost its historic and traditional place as the most educated nation in the world, has set a goal of making us #1 again in average attainment. And making Minnesota the most educated state in the world's most educated nation is about as good as it gets for goal-setting.

Dane Smith

A version of this blog originally appeared on the LearnmoreMN Blog on April 1, 2011. 

 

 

 

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