October 2, 2014

Strong foundation for Business, Higher Ed Partnership

Strong foundation for business, higher ed partnership
By David C. Olson
Minnesota’s continued economic vitality depends on a well-trained workforce. In turn, Minnesota employers will depend heavily on our state’s higher education system to provide those employees.
That message was embraced by President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota and Chancellor Steven Rosenstone of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. Their remarks came at the annual planning retreat of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. It was the first joint public appearance for the heads of the state’s public higher ed systems.
Kaler has been on the job barely six weeks and Rosenstone less than two weeks. But they are on the same page when it comes to identifying the economic challenges facing the state and the role of their systems. That’s good news for the statewide business community.
From Kaler: “Only if Minnesota has a talented and diverse workforce, will businesses come here, stay here and grow. If we don’t have those people, you don’t thrive.”
And from Rosenstone: “Higher education is the solution to Minnesota’s economic vitality and the vitality of regional economies across the state. We are the key to reinvigorating Minnesota’s economy.”
Demographics underscore the need for the business community and the higher ed system to be joined at the hip. It’s projected that 70 percent of all jobs in Minnesota in 2018 will require some postsecondary education. Eighty-five percent of all job growth between 2008 and 2018 will be in jobs that require some postsecondary education; one-half of those jobs will require only a certificate or associate’s degree.
Kaler and Rosenstone willingly accept the challenge to educate a workforce prepared to compete in the global economy. They also stressed that the real work begins in the K-12 system. Too many high school graduates require remedial education upon entering college.
The two school chiefs stepped to the plate here, too. They specifically cited the need to do a better job of training teachers, especially instructors for the STEM courses – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – instruction that is so vitally needed in today’s workforce
The state’s higher ed systems, to no surprise, are challenged in today’s economy to educate students at a price that all can afford. To their credit, Kaler and Rosenstone already have started discussions on collaboration. For starters, they noted, 30 percent of their costs are backroom expenses – an area ripe for cooperation in seeking greater efficiencies.
The increasingly competitive global economy and evolving technologies are raising the stakes for all states. Research indicates that Minnesota’s need for a highly skilled workforce by 2018 will be among the highest in the country.
A key to achieving success is for higher ed institutions to become more responsive to the needs of the economy. We like what we hear from Kaler and Rosenstone. The business community looks forward to working with them to put their ideas into practice.
David Olson is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. For more information, visit the Web at www.mnchamber.com.

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