Senator Greg Clausen: We must look at ways to close Minnesota’s workforce gaps through education

Minnesota ranks among the most educated states in the country, with nearly half of adults aged 25 to 64 holding an associate degree or higher. However, there are currently more than 140,000 job vacancies in the state, an increase of 16 percent over a year ago. Additionally, nearly one in three new jobs created through 2026 will require education beyond high school.

Recognizing these trends, state policymakers set a goal almost four years ago of increasing the proportion of 25- to 44-year-olds with at least a postsecondary certificate to 70 percent by 2025. The most recent statistics show the figure has climbed slowly to 61 percent.

With just six years remaining to reach the goal, legislators along with the state’s public colleges are taking a closer look at their longstanding achievement gaps and looking for new ways of closing them. One solution to reach that goal is to focus on “stop out” students – those students who have started a college or degree program but then left due to a variety of reasons, including tuition, costs, and other barriers. Higher education affordability and timely completion are linked. Additionally, graduating on time may be the most significant factor in reducing student debt and fulfilling Minnesota workforce needs.

To address this problem, I’ve introduced a package of bills to encourage more students to return to school. One bill requires the Commissioner of Higher Education and each public higher education institution to create incentives for near degree completers who have earned at least 15 credits at a technical or community college or at least 30 credits at a four-year institution, with the intention these incentives would motivate “stop out” students to re-enroll and earn a degree. Under this bill, students must be a Minnesota resident, two years removed from attending a higher education institution and committed to earning a degree. Institutions must also create a state-wide communications campaign to identify and target near degree completers.

The second bill creates a statewide higher education reverse transfer agreement where at least 30 credits that a student earns toward a bachelor degree at any public, four-year institution in the state are transferrable to a community college in the state for credit toward an associate degree.

The third bill instructs Minnesota State institutions to administer the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning – CALE 360 Adult Learner Assessment to institutions and adult students to determine campus success in meeting the needs of adult learners. Based on survey results, each campus is to report the findings by January 15, 2020 to the Commissioner and Legislature.

Other ideas to achieve the 70 percent goal is to keep down tuition costs through Tuition Banding. Under this proposal, the state would charge a single tuition rate for enrollment within a specific range of credits.  This initiative will help students graduate on time and reduce student educational costs.

We could do a better job in encouraging 120-credit degree majors, studies indicate students who enroll in 15 credits per term are more successful and graduate on time. We can remove the current Credit Expiration Policies which are currently at either five/ten years and replace it with a Lifetime Credit policy without expiration.

Currently, 20 percent of the students over the age of 25 have a financial hold preventing re-registration or re-enrollment.  To encourage these students to come back to finish their degrees or certification, we should waive fees for those owing under $500. We could also find ways to provide additional assistance for students enrolled in developmental courses to avoid the loss of student aid dollars before enrolling in credit-bearing courses. This would include providing math pathways, co-requisite courses, academic roadmaps and proactive advising.

We must look at additional ways to entice students to come back to school such as providing the first class free or provide a stipend covering tuition for two classes when adult students return to complete their degree.  Minnesota should support more Occupational Scholarships for Minnesota undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines and expand the dual training PIPELINE Project to include transportation and culinary skills occupations.

I firmly believe we can reach the goal of 70 percent of our workers having at least a postsecondary certificate by 2025 if we focus on these initiatives and work toward getting our “stop out” students back in the classroom.

To contact me with your ideas and feedback, you can reach me by phone at 651-296-4120 or by email at sen.greg.clausen@senate.mn. You can also mail letters or pay me a visit in the Minnesota Senate Building, Room 2233, right across the street from the Capitol.

Senator Greg Clausen
Greg Clausen lives in Apple Valley and represents District 57 in the southern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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