State demographer highlights need to prioritize education

In this week’s Senate Tax Committee, members heard a presentation from State Demographer Tom Gillaspy. The demographer is responsible for analyzing Census data and other trends, monitoring changes, and reporting to lawmakers about how our state is changing. It’s this type of information that helps the legislature determine the long-term health of the economy, where more resources may be needed, and what the state should be ready for in the future.

This week’s presentation was timely, as the first wave of baby-boomers begins to turn 65 this month. The changes that this age shift will cause among Minnesota’s workforce are quite drastic. Minnesota’s economy will be a very different place as more people retire and fewer enter the workforce. Dr. Gillaspy stressed that this shift will make it even more important for Minnesota to produce highly skilled, highly educated students who can enter the workforce ready to fill the vacancies left by baby-boomers and strengthen Minnesota’s economy.

Dr. Gillaspy said, “We need higher graduation rates for our high school students and better quality students coming out – these will have a tremendous impact on economic growth going forward.” He also said, “The expectation is almost all new jobs that will be created will require some post-high school education. I think, going forward we’re basically looking at 100 percent requiring some training beyond the high school level.”

These words highlight the need for Minnesota to invest not only in early childhood and K-12 education, but also vocational schools, colleges and universities. Most importantly, we need to make sure higher education remains affordable and accessible to all of our state’s children. With a diminishing workforce, now is not the time to put a higher degree out-of-reach for anyone who has the desire to earn one.

Unfortunately, some policies proposed at the State Capitol in recent years have been working against this goal. The Senate Higher Education Committee learned this week that demand for the State Grant Program will exceed available funding by $35 million over the next two years. The State Grant program is Minnesota’s largest financial aid program, making it possible for Minnesota students and families from all economic backgrounds to have the opportunity to invest in a postsecondary education. Repeated cuts to higher education during the past decade helped fix budget deficits in the short-term, but we are seeing now that those budget reductions are going to have a long-term impact on our ability to provide quality higher education in this state.

Despite this bleak outlook, the Senate expects to vote on a bill next week that proposes another $185 million permanent cut to the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities budgets. I am very opposed to this measure. I understand spending reductions are needed in order to solve the $6.2 billion state budget deficit, but if this week’s testimony tells us anything, it’s that we cannot make reckless cuts at the expense of our students. It’s only going to harm Minnesota’s future economic success – something we cannot afford.

If you are interested in hearing Dr. Gillaspy’s presentation about Minnesota’s future, it is available on the Senate Website at www.senate.mn/media, under “Minnesota’s Demographics are Changing.”

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Senator Rod Skoe
Rod Skoe represents District 2, which includes all or portions of Becker, Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Otter Tail and Wadena counties in the northwestern part of the state. He chairs the Tax Committee.

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