Mark Misukanis, formerly of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education
Minnesota higher ed
over-produces some degree holders, under-produces others
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Human Capital
Interview May 15, 2015
John Adams, Dave Broden
(vice chair), Pat Davies, Dan Loritz (chair), John Lundberg, Mark
Misukanis, Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder (associate director). By
phone: Tom Abeles, Randy Johnson.
Mark Misukanis, formerly
of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and currently a faculty
member at Metropolitan State and Hamline Universities, says
Minnesota higher education institutions are over-producing certain
degree holders and under-producing others, particularly
postsecondary industry-certificate holders. He believes we must
bring the supply and demand side of higher education into better
alignment in order to provide qualified people to fill estimated job
openings through 2018.
He stresses that ignoring the question of
employers' need for people with various postsecondary levels of
education results in the underemployment of highly educated people
and jobs in the economy going unfilled. Ironically, while we're
worrying about having a lack of alignment between postsecondary
education and the economy, Misukanis's analysis shows there has been
a recent increase in the percentage of Minnesota kids not graduating
from high school.
The shift from higher state aid to higher
tuition is changing the way higher education institutions do
business, Misukanis asserts. Now the institutions are much more
sensitive to class size and are more likely to drop a class if there
aren't enough students enrolled to cover the costs through tuition.
Misukanis sees the dynamics of higher
education changing as it faces a number of difficult issues, among
them, online learning, declining government appropriations, direct
competition among postsecondary institutions, changing student
demographics and skyrocketing costs. He decries the lack of
transparency and availability of data on instructional costs from
some institutions, which makes it difficult to know whether we're
underinvesting in higher education. He contends that a governor
deeply engaged in these issues could bring about needed changes in
Mark Misukanis is an adjunct
faculty member at the Hamline University School of Business and
assistant professor at Metropolitan State University. He has also
served as senior consultant at New Pharos Consulting.
Prior to founding New Pharos in 2011,
Misukanis was director of finance and research at the Minnesota
Office of Higher Education from 2004 to 2011. From 1996 to 2004, he
was director and chief budget officer at the Office of Fiscal Policy
and Analysis in the Minnesota Senate. He was lead fiscal analyst for
the Minnesota Senate's Finance Committee from 1987 to 1996.
Misukanis holds a Ph.D. in educational
policy and administration from the University of Minnesota, where
his doctoral coursework concentrated on the economics and
administration of higher education. He also earned an M.A. in
economics from the University of Wisconsin.
The Civic Caucus has released
two recent statements on human capital: one in September 2014
out the human-capital challenges facing the state today and in
coming years and a
follow-up paper in January 2015
offering recommendations for maintaining
a high-quality workforce in Minnesota. The Civic Caucus interviewed
Mark Misukanis about issues in higher education and the need for
various levels of postsecondary education for the jobs that will
have to be filled in Minnesota's near future. The Caucus also asked
for his reaction to its January 2015 statement.
The comments from Misukanis reflect his
views or past experience and do not reflect the current views of
Metropolitan State University or the Minnesota State Colleges and
Universities (MnSCU) system.
Minnesota already has the share of people with postsecondary
education that Georgetown University's Anthony Carnevale said the
state would need to meet job demands by 2018. Carnevale
predicted that 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota would require
some level of postsecondary credential by 2018. Because of some
controversy over the accuracy of Carnevale's prediction, an
interviewer asked what the real need is for those credentials.
"We're already there," Mark Misukanis
said, referencing a table he prepared in January 2015, based on the
U.S. Census American Community Survey for Minnesota. His figures
show that the share of people in different age cohorts with at least
some postsecondary education is as follows:
Ages 18 to 24: 61 percent;
Ages 25 to 34: 74 percent;
Ages 35 to 44: 74 percent;
Ages 45 to 64: 68 percent; and
Ages 65 and over: 49 percent.
He said the share of people with some
postsecondary education started to fall off during the recession, at
least partially explaining the lower share of people with some
college among 18-to-24 year-olds, compared with people in the
25-to-64 age groups.
"Where's the urgency?" Misukanis asked.
"We're where Carnevale said we need to be. We should ask the
question whether this is where we should be. Is there a reason we
should do this?"
Misukanis takes issue with the data and
forecasting model Carnevale used, saying they were not intended to
use for 10-year forecasts.
Based on Georgetown and Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS) work, we need to look not only at the demand side
for higher education, but also at the supply side and the alignment
between them. In a January 2012 report Misukanis prepared for
the Minnesota Career College Association, he used two sources of
data to calculate the following estimated yearly needs for various
postsecondary education levels. The estimates are based on an
average of 91,350 new hires projected annually through 2018.
Estimates based on Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS) data:
19,995 will require at least some college, but no degree;
8,318, at least an associate's degree;
17,564, at least a bachelor's degree;
6,709, at least a master's degree; and
3,071, at least a doctoral or professional degree.
Estimates based on Georgetown data,
produced by Anthony Carnevale:
18,832 will require at least some college, but no degree;
11,655, at least an associate's degree;
24,207, at least a bachelor's degree;
6,172, at least a master's degree; and
2,829, at least a doctoral or professional degree.
The biggest difference between the two
estimates is that the projections based on the Georgetown data
suggest a need for a significantly higher number of associate and
bachelor degrees than the BLS-based projections.
Data from the Minnesota Office of Higher
Education show the following numbers of degrees actually awarded in
Minnesota in 2010:
Certificates below bachelor's level:
Doctoral or professional degrees:
"I'm concerned the question of need wasn't
asked," Misukanis said. "This results in the underemployment of
highly educated people. We may be over-producing one kind of degree
and under-producing other degrees needed by the economy. This
results in curricula based on student demand, not on employer demand
for certain qualifications. The question of alignment is important.
More current and extended research is needed to address this
"If you can walk and talk, you can get a
B.A. today," an interviewer commented. "Deciding to hire someone
because they have a B.A. doesn't show what's behind that degree. Do
they have the attitude toward work and the ability to communicate
and work with other people needed to succeed in the job? Fifty years
ago, a B.A. degree might have represented those skills, but today,
it does not."
"We're not zeroing in on the real
questions we need to ask," the interviewer continued. "We haven't
asked what we expect of our higher education institutions now and
into the future to prepare the next generation for the world of work
they're going to occupy and work in. The demand for what they need
and want vs. what's being made available to them go past each
The shift from higher state aid to higher
tuition is changing the way higher education institutions do
business. Putting more of the financing weight on tuition,
rather than state aid, has made the institutions more sensitive to
class size, Misukanis said. "They're more likely to drop a class if
there are not enough kids enrolled to cover the costs through
tuition," he said. "There's no money to back up seven kids in a
People in higher education will deal with
a range of other issues, but they won't deal with their own
institutions. "There's no agreement as to what America's higher
education system is supposed to do," an interviewer commented. "How
does that conversation get promoted when nobody wants to talk about
the large question?"
Misukanis responded, "The problem is
there's nobody out there to generate the conversation. It's not
going to come out of higher education. The institutions are busy
running themselves and not looking at the bigger picture. A governor
deeply engaged in this could move things."
For a long time we've been educating
people just to be educated, without looking at the future of the
world of work,
commented. The interviewer asked Misukanis how much more
connectivity there should be between business and industry and
"I call this business vs. religion,"
Misukanis responded. "The side that argues education for education's
sake takes on a religious sense. That would be OK if it were all
self-paid, but once you have tax dollars involved, you have to ask
yourself the hard question: How do we think about what we're paying
Competition among postsecondary
institutions is real. Misukanis said the Master of Public and
Nonprofit Administration program at Metropolitan State University,
where he teaches, competes in the metro area with Hamline
University, the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public
Affairs, various online programs, Minnesota State
University-Mankato's Bloomington program, the University of St.
Thomas's program on public policy and leadership, and St. Cloud
State University's newly approved program starting up in Maple
At Metro State, Misukanis said, "we're
being responsive to new competition. It's healthy. Let the market
work and let the good people survive. I think it's important. It
changes attitudes dramatically. We have to be responsive. How do we
improve things, make them better and build programs that lead to
learning and skill-development competencies so our students are more
It's hard to distinguish between the
public and private return on education. "They both exist at the
same time," Misukanis said. But government appropriations to higher
education institutions are going down in every state, he said,
indicating less support for the idea of a public return on
In certain programs at Metro State, online
courses have larger enrollments, while in-person courses may be more
difficult to fill. "People love the convenience of online
classes," Misukanis said. "If you don't offer it, your clients will
leave and go somewhere else."
The advantage Minnesota's workforce has
had historically is its composition. "We're not any smarter than
people in Iowa, Illinois or China," Misukanis said. "Our advantage
is the composition of the population. Our high personal income per
capita is due to our industry and occupational structure," he said.
"We have industries with occupations here that pay more. We've
needed a workforce that could serve those industries."
An opportunity for healthy competition was
lost when former Gov. Tim Pawlenty went along with the Rochester
community's desire to have a new University of Minnesota (U of M)
campus there. Misukanis said the Office of Higher Education had
recommended not a new U of M campus, but a new model of an Institute
of Technology (IT) campus. It would have been an alternative to the
way the U of M's IT program was doing business, he said, providing
Higher education institutions say the
costs of a college education are skyrocketing because the
institutions must offer new support services to today's students,
who are different from the kinds of students higher education used
to attract. Misukanis said the schools also point to the new
technology capabilities they must have.
An interviewer commented that higher
education institutions have been able to raise their prices with
impunity for 20 years because students have so many loans and grants
Cross subsidies are not necessarily bad,
but they should be transparent. Cross subsidies exist when
students in one program pay more than the cost of that program and
the resources are shifted to other more expensive programs. "I
understand cross subsidies exist, but if we're doing it, why not let
everyone know we're doing it?" Misukanis said. "And then we should
have a conversation about why we're doing it."
The price of college often looks worse
than it is, an interviewer said.The interviewer noted
that a number of institutions list their prices at a premium level,
because people often equate price with quality. But then the schools
offer a deep discount through scholarships. "The price looks worse
than it is," the interviewer said. "Costs are under a lot of
pressure because they're discounting the price."
The interviewer noted that some private
colleges use full-ride scholarships to attract the
highest-performing students, even when their families could pay the
College professors are very well
compensated, asserted one interviewer. "It's egregious
what's going on here," the interviewer who made that assertion
commented. "Higher education is a totally inefficient enterprise.
It's vacuous and we can't get to the level of public conversation we
need to have about it."
There have been many good higher education
committee chairs at the Legislature, but they never asked the tough
questions. "We used to ask institutions for their instructional
costs," Misukanis said. Now, he said, it's impossible to get data on
instructional costs from certain large institutions. "They know," he
said, "but they won't give them."
"We can't get transparency," he said. "How
do you understand something if you can't get inside the tent? We
don't know if we are underinvesting in higher education."
Misukanis noted that the Legislature used
to appropriate money separately for research at the U of M. Now it's
all rolled into one big appropriation and the University can
determine itself how to use the money. "They hate set-asides of
funds," he said.
A larger percentage of Minnesota young
people in the 18-to-24 age group has not graduated from high school
(12.9 percent) than in the older age groups. The percentage of
non-graduates in the older working-age cohorts ranges from 5.7
percent among 45- to 64-year-olds to 7.0 percent for 25- to
34-year-olds. The interviewer who noted this trend commented that
maybe we should be focusing on what's going on in the K-12 system
that it's failing to prepare so many young people.
Misukanis attributed part of that
phenomenon to recent demographic changes in Minnesota resulting in
larger shares of racial minority populations in the state. "But the
public policy response is ad hoc and very disparate, not consistent,
strategic or systematic," he said. "This is a fundamental issue."
Misukanis raised several concerns about
the January 2015 Civic Caucus statement,
1. That Georgetown University's report
by Anthony Carnevale on Minnesota's workforce and higher education
has framed too much of the recent discussion on higher education.
In that report, Carnevale predicted that by 2018, 70 percent of
the jobs in Minnesota would require some type of postsecondary
education. Misukanis said all the postsecondary institutions
supported the report, because it was good for them.
2. That the Civic Caucus got some things
wrong in the statement, such as what the Caucus thinks the
Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE) can do.
3. That the statement could have been
bolder about where higher education is today and about issues like
online learning and the shifts, pressures and changes that are
"I think we're further ahead in some of
these conversations than the statement touched on," Misukanis said.
"For example, competition in the public sector is really changing
how people think."
An interviewer commented that the
statement should have a call for thorough transparency and data that
doesn't protect sacred cows. It should also have been more overt in
a call for political leadership.
Another interviewer asserted that we need
collaboration among different sectors to work on issues in
education, not "a czar." Misukanis responded that we still need
leadership, even with a collaborative model.
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, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,