When it comes to earning degrees beyond high school, Minnesotans, not surprisingly, are well above the national average. Nearly 46 percent of the state's working-age adults (25 to 64) hold at least a two-year degree, compared with 38 percent nationally. And the degree attainment rate among young adults between 25 and 34 is nearly 50 percent.

But even those higher rates aren't enough to protect this state from significant workforce challenges. According to an Itasca Project report this year, by 2018 at least 70 percent of all Minnesota jobs will require some type of postsecondary education.

That's why the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has developed recommendations that focus on expanding and improving postsecondary education. Because too many students graduate from high school with deficiencies in academic and critical skills, the chamber suggests better alignment of K-12 standards and assessments, expanding postsecondary options for high school students, and infusing more career and workforce awareness in middle and high schools.

The business group also recommends more cooperation between educators and employers in matching the types of degrees offered with the skills that job creators need.

Chamber leaders also say that limited resources demand changes in education delivery and funding models. In an economy where families and taxpayers are hard-pressed to pay more, the system must make postsecondary education more affordable and more efficient.

That means making tough choices about which programs are still needed and which must fall by the wayside. It means less duplication of programs, more regional cooperation among institutions, better use of technology, and a reassessment of higher-education funding formulas.

The chamber also recognizes that its members bear some responsibility for building the state's workforce; business must be actively involved in seeing that more Minnesotans receive training to secure good jobs.

During a recent conference on the topic, business leaders heard from the director of a national foundation that shares the same goals. The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation is working to improve higher education to fuel the nation's recovery and ensure long-term economic stability.

Lumina's president and CEO, Jamie Merisotis, said that the foundation's goal is to see that 60 percent of American hold high-quality college degrees, certificates or other credentials by 2025. To that end, the nonprofit organization helps to support performance-based higher-ed funding in Pennsylvania. Under that arrangement, schools are funded based not only on how many students enroll, but also on retention and graduation rates.

Locally, the foundation supports the University of Minnesota, Rochester, an innovative branch of the university that operates from the top two floors of a shopping mall. The fully accredited four-year institution is designed to operate with limited state funding and in partnerships with local employers such as the Mayo Clinic.

Those are among many new ways of thinking that institutions of higher education should be using to reach more students and prepare them for the workforce.


The Opinion section is launching a newsletter this fall. Please sign up here.