Mary Rothchild, associate vice chancellor. Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities System (MnSCU), and Brenda Dickinson, Normandale Community
The Civic Caucus
8301 Creekside Circle #920,
Bloomington, MN 55437
February 10, 2012
Notes of the Discussion
Verne Johnson (chair), David Broden (phone), Janis Clay (phone), Pat
Davies, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (phone), Curt Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Dan
Loritz, Tim McDonald, Lynn Osterman, Jim Olson (phone), Clarence
Summary of discussion:
Mary Rothchild, associate vice chancellor for
academic affairs of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU),
and Brenda Dickinson, dean of continuing education and customized training
at Normandale Community College, describe the prospect of a Minnesota
workforce skills shortage and MnSCU's strategies to forestall the effects
of that shortage and to respond to the opportunities it presents for
training and retraining workers.
Mary T. Rothchild
is interim associate vice chancellor for
academic affairs for MnSCU. Her office is responsible for system-wide
technical education, Internet systems for career information, faculty
professional development, academic technologies, high school and adult
transitions, and industry-education partnerships. Prior to this position,
Rothchild was MnSCU's director for strategic partnerships, coordinating
programs designed to meet the state's workforce development needs through
education-industry partnerships in the health care, manufacturing, energy
and bioscience industries.
Before entering the field of higher education
Rothchild was vice president for special loans and asset recovery at US
Bank in Minneapolis. She has also held lending positions at international
and commercial banks in New York City. Rothchild holds a bachelor's degree
in political science from Barnard College, a master's degree in business
administration from Pace University and a Ph.D. in educational policy and
administration from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
Brenda Hanson Dickinson is dean of
continuing education and customized training at Normandale Community
College, a MnSCU school. Her office is responsible for delivering career,
professional and technical training through open enrollment programming,
customized training and workforce development grants. Since 2005,
Normandale has been awarded one federal and 12 state workforce development
Dickinson is a member of the Workforce
Investment Board (WIB), representing the three MnSCU colleges located in
Hennepin and Carver counties; the National Council for Continuing
Education and Training; Minnesota Council for Continuing Education and
Customized Training; and many other professional associations.
-With its 31 institutions,
including 24 two-year colleges and seven state universities, the Minnesota
State Colleges and Universities system is the largest single provider of
post-secondary education in the state of Minnesota. The colleges and
universities operate 54 campuses in 47 Minnesota communities and serve
about 250,000 students in credit-based courses and between 170,000 -
200,000 adults in continuing education. In addition to credit-based and
continuing education courses, the system offers customized training
programs that serve about 153,200 employees from 6,000 Minnesota
businesses each year.
Normandale Community College, located in
Bloomington, MN, is one of Minnesota's largest community colleges. It
enrolls 15,000 credit students and 7,000 continuing education students
C. Discussion -
THE PROBLEM: There is a projected
skills gap in the Minnesota workforce.
The term "skills gap" refers to the misalignment
of job skill requirements and the skills of available workers. The
speakers said that MNSCU works to engage businesses to guide MnSCU in
improving workforce development.
Rothchild identified four components to aligning
jobs and skills:
1. Strive to understand future workforce needs.
Are we communicating with employers sufficiently to know how the workforce
must be trained for the jobs that are now unfilled or will exist in coming
2. Let supply and demand of jobs determine what
programs are offered, not just enrollment, which would only result in
a continual churning of course offerings. We must question: are we
educating people to the level that's appropriate for them as individuals
and that is also appropriate to the job requirements of the future? Does
everyone need a college degree? How do you define "college"?
3. Pay attention to skills and knowledge.
Are students prepared both with technical skills and with the "soft"
skills necessary for functioning successfully in a work environment?
4. Develop market and occupational awareness.
Do people know where the new opportunities are today and where they
will be in the near future? For example, "green" technology is starting to
be very important in the construction industry and will likely be an
important element of the best construction jobs in future. Are students
aware of this type of emerging occupational opportunity and the new skills
required to compete for those jobs?
In the history of the country, a participant
observed, we've never had more than 25 percent of the population with
bachelor's degrees. What has changed that makes us now believe more people
need a college education? Rothchild responded that 47 percent of jobs
today require some form of post secondary education, not necessarily a
bachelor's degree, but at least some form of certification of additional
education beyond high school.
THE GOAL: Anticipate workforce needs
and adapt post-secondary education.
It is a continual process to identify what's
needed, the speakers said, and it involves talking to businesses,
understanding the available data of job supply and demand, and knowing
what skills are specific to each industry. Then a continual process of
redesigning educational offerings must also occur to assure that workforce
needs are met.
THE STRATEGY: Continually evolve
We need to rethink course offerings.
Partly enabled by technology, learning is now
embedded in everything people do. Increasingly, Rothchild said, you about
hear about "stackable" credentials and badges, the evidence of
post-secondary skills mastery supplementing the work resume.
Dickinson described a frustration for many adult
students who feel self-empowered in other areas of life. They come in to
Normandale and ask, "What training should I take so that I can get a job?"
This disconnect must be addressed through both adequate career counseling
and appropriate course offerings.
Evolving two-year degrees may replace four-year
There are different learner groups, Dickinson
said, and colleges need to align programs and services to meet those
needs. Traditional learners who have been successful in traditional
environments often do pretty well finding their way. But while college
degrees have been a necessary foundation for some people to enter into the
workforce, that doesn't necessarily mean a conventional four-year college
degree is ideal for all.
One effect of the merger of the technical
colleges and four-year state college system, Rothchild added, was to
rethink the nature of technical education. There are traditional job areas
where our higher education system has adjusted well, recognizing that some
jobs require technical skills, interpersonal and management skills, and
financial acumen - but not necessarily a four-year degree.
"We did a series of interviews with heads of
companies, and came up with a list of business-critical soft skills that
includes customer relations, innovation, and flexibility," she said.
Education can be designed to meet specific
The MnSCU system office looks at patterns of
industries to see if there are opportunities emerging to develop new
Dickinson described a program developed to meet
employers' needs called "MN HIT" - Minnesota Health Information Technology
program. When they recruited for this program they used traditional
recruiting methods but also relied on new tools like LinkedIn, the
business-related social networking site, and found that some of the
best-qualified people for such a program were dislocated workers.
Another training certification provided by
Normandale that has become a popular resume-builder is ScrumMaster, which
is a method of project management recognized by employers as a highly
valuable and immediately applicable set of skills. It is widely applicable
in many business settings and has proven to be a highly marketable job
Rothchild added "Since we can't know how much
the universe will change, and since we can't know the interests of all
students, we need to expose as many young people as we can to all the
foreseeable opportunities for work and to expose them at the youngest
possible age and at multiple levels of education."
The development of training programs is often
done through grants and public subsidy. The Minnesota Department of
Employment and Economic Development (DEED) issues grants for workforce
development. To qualify for these grants, first offered during the 1983
recession, applicants must be in a partnership between a business and
college. With all such grants, Minnesota made a strategic decision to use
the college partner as the financial vehicle, responsible for the use of
grant funds, and the business partner as beneficiary of the resulting
program. Other states give money directly to business, and it may or may
not result in an ongoing skills development effort with industry-wide
Good value deserves more public funding.
Given changing demographics Minnesota is at risk
of not being able to meet the needs of the workforce in coming years, the
speakers confirmed. However, the state has many resources to turn to among
its post-secondary institutions including the University of Minnesota and
the state's private colleges, in addition to MnSCU. MnSCU is the largest
post-secondary system and, according to Rothchild, the best value for
producing the workforce we need.
"We see ourselves as a relatively affordable
solution in the state," Rothchild said, "although our community college
system is fourth highest in tuition in the country." It's expensive for
students but students probably can't expect more aid from the state of
Minnesota; people need to see this expense as an investment in their
future. The cost of running MnSCU in real terms today is 24 percent less
than it was ten years ago, Rothchild added. What has changed to cause
tuition increases is the amount of funding the state sends to the schools.
If private businesses benefit from these
investments in specific training programs developed by state schools, why
should the state bear the cost of developing and offering these programs,
a participant asked. The balance of the public good and private good is
always in tension in higher education. What is the appropriate balance? "I
think what the Legislature has had to do is say it's all relative to the
other needs in the state," Rothchild observed. There are both private and
public benefits to post-secondary education, she added. It is certainly
possible that the state may have gone too far over to the private benefit
side of the equation. This is something, she noted, that requires on-going
Normandale will continue to look for
cost-effective and innovative ways to meet the learning and skill
development needs of students and business partners, Dickinson said.
In-house and grant funded development of programs in tandem with the
business community will continue. Rothchild added that while more people
are seeking post-secondary learning, the higher education business model
is strained. Twenty years ago when 25-35 percent of the population was
getting a college degree it was assumed a certain type of middle-class
person would be paying for that degree. Now that we're expecting a higher
proportion of the population to have post-secondary training, not everyone
has the necessary resources. This will continue to be a challenge in the
The chair thanked the speakers for the
informative visit today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
Verne C. Johnson, chair; David Broden, Marianne Curry,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Marina Lyon,
Joe Mansky, John Mooty, Jim Olson,
and Wayne Popham