The Star Tribune series about the widening gap between metro and Greater Minnesota (“Better Together,” Dec. 6, 13, 20) has shined a light on a problem that should concern us all. I believe there is really only one way we can solve the problem: We must make sure that all Minnesotans are prepared for the careers of the future so that businesses across the state can grow, communities can thrive and families can realize a better future.

Homegrown talent is the key to Minnesota’s prosperity, but our state is not producing the number of graduates with what it takes to help every region thrive — graduates with technical skills as well as soft skills, such as the ability to think critically, communicate effectively and develop creative solutions.

That’s where the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system comes in and that’s where we need to work together in new and more powerful ways.

Every year, we provide an opportunity to more than 400,000 students to develop the talents they need to better their lives. We partner with business and industry to make sure we have the right programs, in the right places, turning out the right number of graduates, prepared with the necessary knowledge and capabilities. More than 40,000 students graduate from our colleges and universities each year and go on to use their know-how to help businesses, industries, public-sector organizations, nonprofits and communities across the state grow and thrive.

We provide that opportunity to all Minnesotans, no matter who they are or where they live — young and old, rich and poor, immigrant and fourth generation, people of every race and religion, every color and national origin, from every part of the state. That’s why we’re strong in both the metro and in Greater Minnesota. We not only have campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but also in the Red River Valley and across the Iron Range as well as in central and southern Minnesota. In Greater Minnesota, fully 71 percent of students in college attend one of our colleges or universities.

In communities across the state, our colleges and universities are partnering in new and more powerful ways with the private sector to meet Minnesota’s talent needs.

Take health care as an example:

• In northwestern Minnesota: Minnesota State Community and Technical College has partnered with health care providers Ecumen, Sanford Health and Essentia Health to create flexible and innovative solutions for the sector’s talent needs, such as developing a surgical technology program.

• In the metro: St. Paul College partners with employers such as HealthPartners, Regions Hospital, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, Fairview Health Services and the HealthEast Care System, which provide clinical experiences and simulation training. With the addition of the Health and Science Alliance Center, the college is poised to expand specialty programs and add health care partners.

• In southeastern Minnesota: Winona State University leads HealthForce Minnesota, a partnership between educators and employers that identifies and addresses health care workforce challenges and, in the process, positions Minnesota as a global leader in health care education, practice, research and innovation.

Partnerships like these are happening across the state. But one important lesson we’ve learned in recent years is that partnerships between public higher education and employers aren’t enough to address the talent challenge we face in Minnesota.

We need to partner with K-12 educators to make sure every student graduates from high school on time and college-ready. And well before students graduate, they need to have a better sense of the array of well-paying, high-demand careers in their community, the skills and education they require, and the postsecondary education plan that aligns with their passions, talents and capabilities.

Business and industry play a critical role in this, because they are best equipped to help schools, students and parents learn about the full range of high-demand careers.

And when students are nearing graduation, we need to partner with business and industry to recruit those students to our colleges and universities and provide scholarships to help with their education.

When it comes to narrowing the prosperity gap in Minnesota, there is no silver bullet. But I believe the closest thing we have to a silver bullet is to ensure that all Minnesotans get the education they need to secure a better future for themselves, for their families and their communities.

If we want every community in our state to prosper, we have to act now, we have to act decisively and we have to act together — all of us — throughout Minnesota.

 

Steven Rosenstone serves as chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, the public higher education system comprising seven universities and 24 colleges serving 400,000 students in 47 communities across the state.