Gov. Tim Walz’s Sept. 4 commentary “Let’s make Minnesota the Education State” and his education agenda have completely ignored the critical role that Minnesota’s higher-education system plays to ensure that education creates social mobility in Minnesota.
If Minnesota is going to be “the education state,” we need to focus on supporting students all the way to achieving a post-high-school degree — a credential, certificate, trade program or a bachelor’s degree. According to the Center for Education and Workforce at Georgetown University, only 26% of jobs in Minnesota will require a high school degree or less by 2020 — the remaining jobs will require some sort of education after high school.
Walz’s education efforts are equivalent to ending a football drive at your opponents’ 20-yard line. For Minnesota to be competitive in this century, we will need to go all the way down the field. That will require attention from K-12 through postsecondary education. This is grounded in an antiquated view that K-12 and higher education are two different entities. That mentality worked in the last century when a high school degree could get you a middle-class job, but that is not the case nowadays, and a post-high-school education is what is required of all Minnesotans.
Some of the same issues that exist in our K-12 system persist in higher education, and Minnesota could benefit from increased coordination between the two. Today’s college student is much more likely to face hunger and homelessness issues than ever before. A survey released last month from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University found that 2 in 5 Minnesota community college students experienced food insecurity in the prior 30 days. State policies like free and reduced-cost lunch programs support these students during their primary and secondary education, yet these programs go away for college students, despite the fact that students continue to face food insecurity after graduating.
And unfortunately, the quality of the education that you receive in college is often determined by one’s ZIP code. The colleges that have the highest percentage of Pell eligible students, a determination of low-income status, also have some of the lowest college graduation rates. And by no surprise, those poor-performing schools also get the lowest amount of state resources per student compared with high-performing colleges. Those low-income students who attempt to transfer into institutions where they can access more academic support face too many barriers. This Byzantine transfer process often causes students to unnecessarily retake classes that they have already completed, causing a drain on their pocketbook. Only 22% of students attending a Minnesota community or technical college transfer, despite the fact that the vast majority would like to.
Gov. Walz’s first budget continued the trend of underinvesting in higher education, thus forcing those that can least afford a college education to pay a 3% tuition hike this year and next. If Minnesota is going to be the education state, we need one education system from kindergarten through grade 14 that will help students succeed. That will require both reinvestment and reform to ensure that students are getting the education they need.
Priscilla Mayowa is a student at North Hennepin Community College. She is vice president of LeadMN — College Students Connecting for Change.