Larry Pogemiller, commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education
Eliminate inequities in
postsecondary education or risk stifling Minnesota's economy
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Human Capital
Interview June 5, 2015
John Adams, Sandy
Connolly, Pat Davies, Paul Gilje (executive director), Chris
Hendrickson, Sallie Kemper (associate director), Ted Kolderie, Dan
Loritz (chair), Larry Pogemiller, Bill Ridelius, Dana Schroeder
(associate director), Clarence Shallbetter, Shaun Williams-Wyche. By
phone: Janis Clay.
The fundamental issue
for Minnesota is completion of postsecondary education and
attainment of certificates and degrees by students of color, asserts
Larry Pogemiller, commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher
Education (OHE). We must overcome the inequities in postsecondary
education or we'll stifle the economy, he says, because we'll just
run out of people to do the work. He calls it a moral and economic
Minnesota students of color, Pogemiller
points out, are much less likely to complete high school on time and
to complete postsecondary education than white students. And
students of color, who now make up 24 percent of Minnesota
graduates, are more likely to attend two-year colleges part-time
than white students, meaning they are less likely to complete a
certificate or degree program. These disparities, he says,
constitute "a scandal" and are creating a
tiered system that is a major problem for our society in the
And students attending two-year colleges
are much more likely to be enrolled in developmental (i.e.,
remedial) postsecondary courses than those attending four-year
colleges, he says. Rates of enrollment in developmental courses-a
measure of lack of readiness for college-differ widely by
racial/ethnic group. The greatest difference is between white high
school graduates, with 24 percent enrolling in developmental
courses, versus black or African American graduates with 55 percent.
Pogemiller believes strongly that a
critical step toward addressing these postsecondary inequities is to
focus scarce resources on those most in need through targeted
financial aid. He states that using targeted financial aid rather
than free college or low tuition for everyone is a "no-brainer"
policy issue. Targeted financial aid allows students to get to their
best-fit institutions and increases their odds of success, he says.
We must start at the pre-K level in order
to solve the postsecondary problem, because inequities snowball, he
says, even at the lowest grade levels. He believes we don't
intervene effectively enough through the early years for a lot of
students who are lagging behind in basic skills. Those students
start to believe they can't succeed.
Larry Pogemiller is
commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE), a
position he has held since November 2011. Prior to becoming
commissioner, Pogemiller served in the Minnesota House from 1981 to
1982 and in the Minnesota Senate from 1983 to 2011, representing
Districts 58 and 59 in Minneapolis. He served as Senate Majority
Leader from 2007 to 2010, after previously serving as chair of the
Senate Tax and Senate Education Committees.
Pogemiller graduated from the University
of Minnesota with a B.S. degree in transportation engineering and
earned a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard's John
F. Kennedy School of Government. He studied for his doctorate at the
University of Minnesota's Graduate School of Economics, but did not
complete the degree.
About the Minnesota Office of Higher
Education (OHE). OHE is a cabinet-level state agency that
provides students with financial aid programs to help them gain
access to postsecondary education. The agency also serves as the
state's clearinghouse for data and research and analysis on
postsecondary enrollment, financial aid, and finance and policy
trends. It administers up to $180 million in need-based grants to
Minnesota residents attending eligible institutions in the state. It
manages the Minnesota student loan program, known as the SELF Loan,
and oversees other state scholarship programs, tuition reciprocity
programs, Minnesota's 529 College Savings Plan, licensing, an early
college awareness program and initiatives for youth.
Background. The Civic Caucus has
released two recent statements on human capital:
in September 2014 laying
out the human-capital challenges facing the state today and in
coming years and a
follow-up paper in January
offering recommendations for maintaining
a high-quality workforce in Minnesota. The Civic Caucus interviewed
Larry Pogemiller to learn more about the role of Minnesota's Office
of Higher Education in helping Minnesota prepare students for the
For Minnesota, the fundamental issue is ensuring that more students
of color complete postsecondary education and attain certificates or
degrees. If we don't do
that, we will suffocate our economy and our economic growth, said
Larry Pogemiller, commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher
Education (OHE). "All the other issues around it are very
important," he said. "But fundamentally, the issue for Minnesota is
equity in education at the postsecondary level. We have to overcome
the inequities in postsecondary education or we'll stifle the
economy. We'll just run out of people to do the work."
Minnesota has to figure out how to take
the homegrown cohort we have and be successful with them.
Inequities dominate education in Minnesota, Pogemiller said. The
growth in our population will come almost entirely from cohorts of
color. "If we're not successful in having those students complete
high school, get into postsecondary and complete postsecondary,
we're just not going to be what we were," he said. "It's a moral
imperative and an economic imperative."
Minnesota students of color are less
likely to complete high school on time and to complete postsecondary
education. Pogemiller referenced 2013
Students of color are less likely to complete high school on
time than white students: for example, only 49 percent of American
Indian students and 58 percent of black students do so, compared
with 85 percent of white students.
Students of color are less likely to complete postsecondary
education: 65 percent of white students graduate from four-year
institutions in six years or less, compared to 51 percent of black
students and 42 percent of American Indian students. And 54
percent of white students graduate or transfer from two-year
institutions within three years, compared with only 41 percent of
black students and 21 percent of American Indian students.
Students of color, who now make up 24 percent of Minnesota
undergraduates, are more likely to attend two-year colleges
part-time than white students, meaning that they are less likely
to complete a certificate or degree program.
"It's pretty apparent that for every group
other than white Anglo-Saxons, we're just not doing what we need to
do," Pogemiller said.
Even among high-achieving students,
socioeconomic factors have a major impact on who completes a
four-year postsecondary degree. Pogemiller referenced a recent
longitudinal study by the National Center for Education Statistics
that showed that among students in the study scoring in the top 25
percent on a math achievement test while in high school, 74 percent
of those students in the top socioeconomic quartile completed a
bachelor's degree by the time they were in their late 20s. In
contrast, only 41 percent of the poorest students with the top math
scores did so-a completion gap of 33 percentage points.
"That's got to be fixed," Pogemiller said.
"That's not the only issue in postsecondary education, but it's the
paramount issue. If you fix that, a lot of the other issues fade
We do really well with Lake Wobegon kids:
they have high rates of graduation from high school, of entrance
into postsecondary education and of attaining a degree.
Pogemiller asserted that we must look at some obvious disparities,
like male/female and race, because we aren't taking care of
everybody. "I think this may not be a deficit of the person or the
cohort we've described," he said. "It may be a fundamental issue
about the way we deliver services. There's a lot of evidence in
chartering and other activity going on in education that we can
resolve this. It's a question of whether we have the will to resolve
"Minnesota is a state that cares,"
Pogemiller continued. "But apparently we don't care enough to
resolve these issues, which have been going on for 30, 40 or 50
years here. It should be unacceptable for Minnesota to peacock
itself until it solves this problem."
"We spend money for these systems under
the notion that they create upward social and economic mobility," he
said. "We just simply are not delivering that at the level we need
to. We are delivering it for individual people. There's evidence
that there's been a lot of movement. But there's a lot of economic
evidence that it has stalled out."
The issue of free college or low tuition
versus putting money into need-based aid is a "no-brainer" policy
issue. Pogemiller said the evidence is we need more investment
in need-based aid. "But now President Obama is talking about free
college," he said. "Harvard's going to take care of itself. I don't
think we have to worry about whether Harvard's too expensive or not.
I would put the University of Minnesota (U of M) in that same group.
There are a lot more people trying to get in there than they let in.
Apparently, it's not over-priced."
The issue, he said, is who goes to which
college. "If you're a kid of color or a young adult of color, you go
to a two-year college and you go part-time," he stated. "And the
part-time students at two-year colleges are the group least likely
to attain a certificate or degree." OHE data show that the
three-year graduation and transfer rate from Minnesota's public
two-year institutions was 50 percent in 2013.
The way you fix that is through need-based
aid, Pogemiller maintained. Financial aid allows students to get to
their best-fit institutions and increases their odds of success, he
maintained. "We should be investing more in need-based aid than in
There's not an access problem in Minnesota
to postsecondary education, because pretty much everybody can get to
college, even without a high school diploma. Today, we actually
have free college in Minnesota, Pogemiller said. If a student's
family income is under about $40,000, he or she can go to any
community college in Minnesota for free and also likely get some
money for living expenses. "What's not free is the U of M or private
colleges," he said. "That's the way the world is. People with money
send their kid to the U of M or a private college, not to a two-year
community or technical college."
Getting a degree is an issue of risks and
probabilities. The risks are not as great if you come from a
high-income family, Pogemiller said. Eventually, someone will help
you get a job. If you're a low-income kid and you take on $40,000 or
$50,000 of debt, you're at great risk, he said. "If you don't land
that job right out of college," he said, "your entire life has
changed. You now have to make choices that limit your upward
mobility. The highest risk people are the lowest income people, who
tend to be people of color."
The problem is our inability to deliver
equal opportunity and erase inequities in postsecondary degree
attainment; the goal is to eliminate them. The way to do that,
Pogemiller believes, is to focus scarce resources on those most in
need through targeted financial aid. He asserts the same is true in
pre-K education-target the kids most in need first, rather give it
to everybody for free.
To solve the postsecondary problem, we
must start at pre-K, because these inequities snowball. If you
can't read in third grade, it's harder to graduate on time. If you
can't graduate on time, it's harder to attain a degree, Pogemiller
said. We need to invest in pre-K education, so students are
progressing in their elementary years, instead of just biding time.
"We won't get equity at the postsecondary level unless we fix the
K-12 situation," he asserted.
In the K-12 system, he said, we need to
intervene earlier for students who are lagging behind in basic skill
areas. "We don't intervene effectively enough through the early
years for a lot of students," he believes. "We lose them along the
way. They lose interest. They start to believe they can't succeed."
Minnesota white high school students
taking the ACT college-entrance exam in fall 2014 were significantly
more likely to score as college-ready than their cohorts of color
Data from OHE show that among Minnesota high school students taking
the ACT in fall 2014, 44 percent of white students scored as
college-ready, compared with 24 percent of Asian students, 19
percent of Hispanic students, 13 percent of American Indian
students, and 10 percent of black students.
The odds are students will be taking
developmental classes if they're at community colleges, but not if
they're at the U of M or a private college. "The U of M and the
private colleges need to do more in that area," Pogemiller said.
"Let's set up systems where everybody picks up a little bit more of
"There needs to be a rework of
postsecondary education to take students as they are," he continued.
"Co-requisite programming, where students get developmental (i.e.,
remedial) help while also taking some classes for credit, works for
some people, but not for all. And we need to make an investment at
the postsecondary level in support services for students, such as
intrusive advising, counseling, mentors and additional faculty
24 percent of Minnesota's 2013 public high school graduates enrolled
in developmental education at a Minnesota college in fall 2014.
But for 2011 Minnesota public high school
graduates, rates of enrollment in developmental education at a
Minnesota college differed widely by racial/ethnic group: white
graduates, 24 percent; Asian graduates, 39 percent; black or African
American graduates, 55 percent; Hispanic or Latino graduates, 45
percent; and American Indian graduates, 38 percent.
And low-income students (as measured by
participation in free or reduced-price lunch programs in high
school) enroll in developmental education at higher rates than
higher income students: graduates not taking part in the lunch
programs, 24 percent in developmental education; graduates enrolled
in reduced-price lunch, 37 percent; and graduates enrolled in free
lunch (the lowest-income group), 47 percent.
There are lots of efforts going on around
the state aimed at matching education and training to the needs of
employers, such as:
Postsecondary institutions are doing some
of this, he said. "There's a lot of innovation going on, especially
on rural campuses."
The skills misalignment issue is a lot
more complex than people want it to be. We think higher
education should work to fix that misalignment, Pogemiller said.
"But we need to be realistic about what postsecondary institutions
can do versus what is out of their control," he said. We don't
control which jobs are available. And there's always a time lag when
an institution is starting a new training or educational program.
Most students who are not succeeding in
the K-12 system don't have classrooms set up that accommodate who
they are. "We can fix that," Pogemiller said. "We know that the
interpersonal connection of teacher to student is critical. We must
create faculty-student connections that matter."
Let postsecondary institutions decide on
their own policies for out-of-state tuition rates. The U of M
has low out-of-state tuition, because it's trying to attract top
out-of-state students, Pogemiller said. "We shouldn't necessarily
say that we'll take care of Minnesota students first," he said.
"That could be very shortsighted. The U of M is supposed to be
competitive internationally. We need high-quality Minnesota and
non-Minnesota kids to be that kind of institution."
He noted that among Minnesota students
going on to postsecondary education, 72 percent stay in Minnesota
for college; 21 percent go to border states with tuition
reciprocity; and only seven percent go to other states.
The market will tell us if postsecondary
institutions are being well run. "Don't intervene in that market
with free-tuition ideas, because that's anti-efficiency," Pogemiller
said. "The U of M bases tuition on what they think they can set it
at to attract the cohort of kids they want. They view the
Legislature as a revenue source in a market system. I'm for more
investment in higher education, but we must stop getting diverted by
things unrelated to results for students."
The Office of Higher Education doesn't
have the capacity to be doing policy analysis on possible
disruptions to the higher education system. But, Pogemiller
said, a lot of work on this topic is going on in postsecondary
institutions. He pointed out that one disruptive development is the
use of online technology as part of students' learning. He believes
that even with the new technology, people need human interaction to
learn in some type of blended mechanism of online and in-person
learning. But we'll have to wait for the market response to this
technology, he said. "If people can get jobs with total online
degrees, they'll do that."
"This new learning technology is more
pervasive than baby boomers think," he asserted. "It's not
either-or. Institutions must effectively use it or die. And I think
some will die."
An interviewer commented that he believes
the institutions will survive, but the professoriate is really
threatened by the new technology. "Professors will adapt,"
Pogemiller responded. "Some say they're having a more intimate
experience with students online, where they feel they're interacting
in a personalized manner that affects the students' learning."
When looking at the quality of K-12
teachers, the path forward politically is to look at whether we have
the right teachers with the right students. Pogemiller said we
must ask whether we're getting the right people into the teaching
profession. He noted that Finland is very intentional about who they
attract and put into teaching, while the U.S. is not.
"On the front end, let's decide who we
think would be good teachers and try to attract them," he said.
"This would raise the cultural understanding of who teachers are,
which is very important. I think we'd be better served and we'd have
more teachers of color. Teachers are working hard and trying to
change, but we seem stuck somehow."
"Let's start from the basics: how to get
the right teacher with the right students," he continued. "Why do we
want a system where the highest paid teachers are in classrooms with
the least challenging kids? The highest paid teachers should be
those with the toughest jobs. Are you the right teacher for the kids
we have? There's a lot of great stuff going on, but we must make
sure it's everywhere for every kid."
The prevalence of part-time attendance at
two-year colleges by kids of color is a problem for our society.
Pogemiller said what we're doing is creating a tiered system that is
not in our best interest long-term. "Whether it's intentional or
not, it's a problem for our society, since most of our emerging
population are kids of color."
There are way too many kids of color in
two-year colleges and working in blue- collar jobs, he said. "Racial
inequities are not right. This is a scandal. The U of M, the private
colleges and MnSCU are not off the hook."
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,