By Nate Lassila, January guest blogger
Investment in education decades ago led to Minnesota’s highly educated workforce and vibrant, innovative economy — luring other educated individuals and their families to start or continue their careers here. This is still occurring, but decreasing investment over the past decade may change Minnesota’s appeal in the years to come.
We know that two things are occurring. First, Minnesota high school graduates who go to college in other states exceed the numbers who come here from other states for college. The net loss is more than 5,000 students per year, as reported by the Minnesota Private College Research Foundation (Student Migration Trends: Minnesota’s Net Loss of College-Going High School Graduates, November 2009). Secondly and optimistically, we are an importer of about the same number of 24-39-year-olds who have a bachelor’s degree. So each year we lose thousands of students to colleges in other states (who may stay there after graduation), yet we gain thousands who see Minnesota as an attractive place to live and work. But how much longer will this perception hold?
According to Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy, in the 1950s Minnesota was below average in terms of individuals’ annual incomes and education levels. State leadership at the time made a strong investment in education — a decision geared to push development of a world class workforce. This investment succeeded, even though it has diminished in more recent times.
Now we are beginning to feel the pain of failing to continue this contribution to education. Years of neglect have led to reduced access and affordability of college at a time when our workforce is aging and retiring. Minnesota now finds itself putting a band-aid on a major policy problem.
The conclusion is unclear. How long can Minnesota rely on a reputation to keep and lure talent for our major industries? We lose college-bound students each year, but we still attract other talented individuals — some who grew up here and know of the benefits of Minnesota life. If we want an economic and education infrastructure that continues to draw families to Minnesota, we may need to make an equal or stronger effort than was made half a century ago. Who, I wonder, will provide the leadership needed to make this happen?