MN Leaders Outline Need for More College-Biz Collaboration

A new report released by The Itasca Project outlined several strategies for building such collaboration, including aligning academic offerings with work force needs and regional businesses partnering with colleges and universities to co-create research and innovation agendas.

The state’s colleges and universities need to find new ways to collaborate with each other and local businesses in order to fuel economic growth and prosperity in Minnesota, according to a new report.

The report, “Higher Education Partnerships for Prosperity,” was commissioned by The Itasca Project—a conglomeration of more than 50 Minnesota CEOs, public-sector officials, and leaders from area foundations. Improving higher education is among The Itasca Project’s key priorities, and it formed a higher-education task force to identify strategies aimed at driving long-term growth in the state.

The report pointed out that Minnesota has more than 200 post-secondary institutions that collectively serve nearly 500,000 students annually and maintain annual budgets that together total about $7 billion—and it touted the fact that Minnesota ranks eighth among states in terms of the share of high school graduates who enroll in higher-education programs. The report also praised the University of Minnesota for its world-class research and strong professional education and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System for its vocational and customized training programs.

But according to the report, Minnesota’s higher education institutions act separately from one another and sometimes view each other as competitors rather than collaborators. Meanwhile, businesses see post-secondary institutions as sources that fuel their work force but only infrequently interact with them.

At the same time, Minnesota jobs requiring post-secondary education are estimated to grow by nearly 8 percent between 2008 and 2018, while jobs that require no more than a high school diploma will increase by only 3 percent over the same period, according to the report, which cited a Georgetown University study. By 2018, 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require post-secondary education.

“Where higher education institutions and businesses have acted largely independently before, a new wave of collaborations amongst institutions and between those institutions and business have the potential to create a fundamentally more powerful engine of learning, innovation, and economic growth for the state of Minnesota,” the report said.

It outlined several strategies for building such collaboration. One is aligning academic offerings with work force needs—with businesses working with colleges to convey they skills they need and helping to train students through internships, course activities, financial support, and other types of partnerships. Another strategy outlined involves regional businesses partnering with colleges and universities to co-create research and innovation agendas.

In addition to enhancing collaboration between businesses and colleges within the state, the report detailed the need to boost college graduation rates.

“Making the state’s higher education system more effective and productive would raise access, affordability, and value for students,” the report said. “It would also raise the value offered and competitiveness of our higher-education institutions versus those in other regions. Furthermore, this would boost the supply of valuable skills and innovations for our region’s businesses, fueling their ability to grow output, create jobs, compete, and contribute to regional prosperity, while increasing the attractiveness of the region for new businesses to start or move here.”

The Itasca Project’s 12-member higher education task force is chaired by Cargill CEO Greg Page. A number of other top executives also serve on it, including U.S. Bank CEO Richard Davis, Andersen Corporation CEO Jay Lund, Allina CEO Ken Paulus, and Andy Slavitt, CEO of UnitedHealth Group subsidiary OptumInsight. The group also includes senior executives from General Mills and Target.

To read the group’s full report, and to learn more about the strategies it’s proposing, click here.