, an academic dean at Hennepin Technical College
Better K-12 preparation, more
career-focused outreach needed
to increase technically competent graduates
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Human Capital
Interview February 6, 2015
Tom Abeles, John Adams,
Dave Broden (vice chair), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper (associate
director), Dan Loritz (chair) Mike McGee, Dana Schroeder (associate
director), Fred Zimmerman.
According to Mike McGee,
an academic dean at Hennepin Technical College (HTC), low high-school
graduation rates and high numbers of students significantly
underprepared for college have a direct impact on HTC's enrollment and
McGee reports that high percentages of
students coming into HTC test at the developmental level on an
assessment exam covering math aptitude and reading comprehension
skills. Many of the students with high school diplomas have only
seventh- or eighth-grade math and reading skills, with some graduating
at even lower skill levels. Yet students cannot use federal financial
aid to take developmental college classes at the eighth-grade level or
below. He chastises high schools for not making senior year a very
rigorous year to help prepare students for college. He calls for the
country to make a "social sea change" to hold students back in grade
school or high school if they're not making progress.
McGee describes a very positive partnership
involving HTC and 13 other two-year MnSCU colleges with the 360°
Center of Excellence at Bemidji State University. The center is
focused on manufacturing and applied engineering and is engaged in
outreach with high school students to expose them to manufacturing
careers and training. He points out that some other states have
created districts to run technical colleges, such as a state's
regional planning districts or special districts with the same
boundaries as a state's federal Congressional districts.
Mike McGee is academic dean of
manufacturing, math and science at Hennepin Technical College, a
position he has held since 2012. He was an academic dean at
Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) from 2000 to 2012.
He has held several positions in law enforcement and has taught
criminal justice, law enforcement and sociology.
He holds a B.A. in criminal justice with a
minor in psychology from St. Cloud State University and a master's in
public administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato.
College (HTC) is Minnesota's largest technical college, serving just
under 9,000students at campuses in Brooklyn Park and Eden Prairie.
The college, which is part of the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) system, offers more than 45 programs of study,
leading to certificates, diplomas or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.)
or Associate of Science (A.S.) degree.
Eighty-one percent of the students attend
school part time (23 or fewer credits in an academic year), while 19
percent attend full time. Forty-two percent of the students are female
and 57 percent male. About 39 percent are students of color, with
black or African American students making up 21 percent of the
enrollment. The average age of the students is 30. In 2013, the
related job placement of graduates was 94 percent.
Enrollment at the college, as at other MnSCU
schools, has declined in recent years. McGee said HTC current
spring term enrollment is down by 8.5 percent compared to last year.
He pointed to a "demographic bubble" caused by the aging of many baby
boomers' children beyond the traditional college years. He said that
some enrollment decline might have been evident since 2007 or 2008,
except that the recession brought in more students who were unable to
find work while an infusion of federal money into education also
Low high school graduation rates impact
HTC's enrollment. "We don't have high school graduates in the
numbers we would like," McGee said. "And many of the high school
graduates are significantly underprepared for college. Some are
He said the most recent figures show a high
school graduation rate for Minneapolis schools of 52 percent. He saw a
recent piece in the StarTribune that said many of the students
who do graduate have seventh- or eighth-grade math and reading skills.
"Unfortunately," he said, "many are coming out with much lower
grade-level skills in math and reading than that."
There is a mix of reactions from students
when they find out how unprepared they are for college. "When
you're handed a high school diploma, you might believe that you have
the requisite skills to succeed in a college program," McGee said. "Or
if you go to a tech school, you might think you don't need academic
skills, that you don't need to be very good at math or very good at
reading. Some of that is reinforced by the fact that we do hand out
diplomas to people who are underprepared."
"It would mean a social sea change, a choice
that this country would have to make, to hold students back in grade
school or high school if they're not making progress," McGee
continued. "You don't have to wait until 10th grade to
measure people. In most cases, by then it's too late. Then it's
difficult to bootstrap them up to even seventh- or eighth-grade math
There's a direct correlation between reading
and math skills, McGee said. If students' reading skills are poor,
it's almost a given that their math reasoning skills will be poor, as
It's a poor choice on the part of high
schools not to make senior year a very rigorous year to prepare
students for postsecondary education. "The senior year of high
school is sometimes a 'throw-away year'," McGee said. "There is not
much student accountability to the teachers and not many
deliverables." This leaves students unprepared for the demands of the
first year of college.
Kids today don't know what goes on in a
technical organization. They know very little about technology and
HTC and several other schools are involved
in a partnership under the auspices of the
360° Center of Excellence,
which focuses on manufacturing and applied engineering.
About eight years ago, MnSCU created several centers of excellence,
one each in IT, health care, manufacturing and engineering, applied
engineering and manufacturing, and energy. HTC belongs to centers at
both Minnesota State University, Mankato, and Bemidji State
University. He said the Bemidji center is "very engaged in outreach
with young people to help them understand that manufacturing careers
are exciting, interesting, engaging, good-paying and challenging, with
good opportunities for advancement."
The 360° Center in Bemidji has been named an
Advanced Technological Educational Center (ATE) by the federal
government, a designation that brought in $15 million in federal
funding. There are 14 two-year schools partnered through Bemidji that
do the outreach and are connected to the high schools, McGee said.
The 360° Center, he said, has an online
manufacturing curriculum that offers three certificates and a full
degree. Students can take the course through any of the member
colleges. "It's a unique way to gateway high school students into a
two-year program, because they can be dual credit," McGee said. "They
might count for both high school graduation requirements and the
two-year postsecondary programs."
"The 360° Center at Bemidji has been active
and successful," he continued. "Karen White has done a remarkable job
as executive director." It's been named an Applied Technology Center (ATC)
by the National Science Foundation.
High percentages of students coming into HTC
test at the developmental level on an assessment exam covering math
aptitude and reading comprehension skills. In response to a
question, he pointed out that in Minnesota, two-year colleges are
open-access institutions, meaning students are not required to have a
high school diploma in order to enroll.
If students score at the lowest
developmental level of math, they would need up to four semesters to
get to a college level of math. "Most people just can't do that,"
McGee said. "We have focused our math requirements and have tailored
one course to a contextualized math, which is applied math for the
Recently, he noted, the federal government
began to enforce the financial-aid rule that prohibits colleges from
providing financial aid for students taking developmental courses at
the eighth-grade level or lower. "We've had to scramble to figure out
how to bring students up from levels well below this to the
ninth-grade level in math," he said. "As a result, we've lost students
who have no place to go to meet their basic math requirements, except
adult basic education (ABE)." He said HTC offers ABE classes, a school
district program that is free to students. .
Interviewer: We must fix three weaknesses in
the K-12 school system. In response to McGee's concerns about
student preparation for postsecondary courses, an interviewer
commented that we need the following to improve K-12 education:
1. We need counselors who have some type of applied orientation;
2. We need shop classes, which are key
ingredients to subjects like engineering; and
3. We need some Marine-Corps type drill
sergeants in the system.
Interviewer: Many people in middle
management in postsecondary systems across the country are not
prepared for their positions. An interviewer commented that the
deans are the link between an institution's mission and what "goes on
in trenches." But we're not training them for leadership. "There's a
big gap in what we expect and the training we provide for deans to get
the job done," the interviewer said. "It's a systemic problem."
At MnSCU's two-year schools, 60 percent of
the faculty must be full time. An interviewer commented that 70
percent of people teaching at universities are adjunct faculty
members. "I support having as many full-time professionals as I
can find," McGee said. "But it can be really hard to find full-time
professional people in technical areas. If they're really good,
they're making a lot of money in the private sector."
In education, we add more and more touch
points and overlay one program over another, so it's hard to know
where to start in order to make changes. "Where is the path that
will be effective?" McGee asked.
Some states have created larger districts to
run technical colleges. An interviewer asked whether it would help
to disaggregate MnSCU so that the separate schools with different
missions could operate differently. McGee pointed out that it's been
20 years since the community colleges, technical colleges and
four-year universities merged to form MnSCU. He thinks it has worked
all right for the community colleges and the state universities to be
joined together, since the two-year schools are feeders to the
Prior to the MnSCU merger, the technical
colleges were run by local school districts. In some states, larger
districts have been created to run the technical colleges, McGee said,
such as a state's regional planning districts or districts with the
same boundaries as a state's federal Congressional districts.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman