By Greg Page, August guest blogger
Global forces are demanding ever more from our higher education system. Minnesota is fortunate to be starting from a position of strength, but to remain competitive we must be better.
Over the last nine months I have had the pleasure of chairing a task force, convened by the Itasca Project, to identify strategies for higher education in Minnesota that drive long-term, sustainable economic growth and prosperity. The task force included higher education leaders Eric Kaler, Steven Rosenstone, Brian Rosenberg, as well as business and community leaders (see the report here 5MB, PDF).
The group identified a four-part strategy:
- Align academic offerings with workforce needs;
- Foster an ecosystem of research and innovation;
- Form new collaborations across higher education to optimize system-wide intellectual assets and efficiency; and
- Graduate more students with the foundational and technical skills needed to drive Minnesota’s prosperity.
These strategies and much of the task force’s deliberations, centered on a single unifying theme: the need for more robust and meaningful collaborations. The new economy requires our higher education systems to work together in unprecedented ways to benefit from operational efficiencies and to give students better options to achieve their degrees. But getting our institutions of higher education working better together is not enough. The business community must engage with higher education in new ways; such as:
Articulate future workforce needs, in terms of foundation and technical skills and sharing with institutions and students;
Engage with more students to help build their skills and expose them to employment opportunities through student projects and internships;
Partner with our institutions on research and innovation, where appropriate, to support the growth of Minnesota’s core economic sectors; and
Share operational expertise (e.g., implementing shared services).
I believe that through these collaborations we have the potential to create a fundamentally more powerful engine of learning, innovation, and economic growth for Minnesota. While important collaborations have been undertaken in the past, the new efforts foster partnerships with far greater intentionality and scale than previously imagined, creating the nation’s foremost collaboration of educators and employers.
The good news is we’ve gotten a lot of support and excitement for these strategies. This seems to be, thankfully, a non-partisan issue. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with business groups, policymakers, the Minnesota Private College Council, the U of M Board of Regents, the MnSCU trustees, and more. The reaction we have gotten most often to the proposed strategies and intention of renewed collaboration has consistently been “how can we help?” And from the business leaders I have talked with, I know we intend to do our part. We have formed a compact with higher education leaders to be more engaged partners and invite educators and employers to sign on.
The Itasca Project higher education task force has been a remarkable journey and there’s much to do yet. The fact that business leaders, the U of M, MnSCU, and the Private Colleges agreed to work together to chart a new course for higher education suggests this is a new era. Given the intensifying global competition, we must move with urgency into that new era of collaboration.