SOURCE: Itasca Project

Itasca Project

July 10, 2012 09:46 ET

Business and Higher Education Leaders Identify Framework for Solutions for Challenges Facing Higher Education and Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS, MN--(Marketwire - Jul 10, 2012) -  After eight months of study, the Itasca Project Higher Education Task Force has identified a four-part strategy to drive long-term prosperity for Minnesota. The Task Force brought together leaders from Minnesota's higher education institutions and business community in a unique collaboration designed to build upon the strengths of the educational system to meet the challenges ahead.

"Every single citizen in the state of Minnesota will benefit if we do this work well," said Greg Page, Chairman and CEO of Cargill and Chair of the Higher Education Task Force. "A high quality, highly effective higher education system is a key to driving long-term, sustainable economic growth and prosperity in our state."

The Task Force concluded that Minnesota's historical strengths in higher education give it an advantage, yet there is an urgent need to take action and make investments to take these strengths to the next level of excellence. The group identified a four-part strategy:

  • Align academic offerings with workforce needs;
  • Foster an ecosystem of research and innovation;
  • Form new collaborations across higher education to optimize system-wide intellectual assets and efficiency; and
  • Graduate more students with the foundational and technical skills needed to drive Minnesota's prosperity.

"The Itasca Project has initiated a new way of working together across higher education systems and with business," said President Brian Rosenberg, Macalester College. "The Task Force has allowed for a degree of discussion and collaboration among institutions of higher education, and between the business community and higher education, that we believe is unmatched elsewhere. We intend to build on this in new and meaningful ways."

The Task Force noted the business and higher education leaders have made the collective investment in this project because they believe that ensuring an accessible and highly effective education system is critical for our state. "We are facing a perfect storm," said Steven Rosenstone, Chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. "At the moment in time when Minnesota needs more graduates, better prepared than ever before to drive economic prosperity and compete not just with neighboring states, but with nations around the world, state investment in higher education has markedly decreased."

The Task Force noted many forces require dramatic and urgent changes from the system, including:

  • Pressures on state budgets drove a 20% reduction of higher education funding per student on average nationally, and a 35% reduction in Minnesota from 2000 to 2010.1
  • This has caused dramatic increases in tuition and large debt loads. In fact, average debt loads for Minnesota graduates are among the highest in the nation.
  • Completion is a significant concern -- with only half of those who start higher education earning a degree.
  • It is estimated that by 2018, 70% of Minnesota jobs will require post secondary education.2
  • Countries around the world are placing great emphasis on higher education, surpassing the U.S. in post-secondary educational attainment among 25-34 year olds by up to 40%.3

"Our identified strategies have a single unifying theme -- collaboration," said President Eric Kaler, University of Minnesota. "A new wave of collaborations -- among educational institutions and between those institutions and business -- has the potential to create a fundamentally more powerful engine of learning, innovation, and economic growth for the state of Minnesota. Without research and innovation, Minnesota's economy will falter."

A whitepaper summarizing the task force's findings is available at The Task Force is now establishing working groups to drive implementation ideas for the strategic framework it developed.

About the Itasca Project
The Itasca Project is an employer-led alliance drawn together by an interest in new and better ways to address regional issues that impact our future economic competitiveness and quality of life in the Twin Cities area. Its 50-plus participants are primarily private-sector CEOs, public-sector leaders, and the leaders of major Minneapolis/St. Paul-based foundations. The Itasca Project Chair is Mary Brainerd, President and CEO of HealthPartners.

About the Itasca Project Higher Education Task Force
The task force chair is Greg Page (Cargill). Task Force participants include: Jim Campbell (Retired, Wells Fargo), Richard Davis (US Bank), Kathy Gaalswyk (Initiative Foundation), Eric Kaler (University of Minnesota), Jay Lund (Andersen Corporation), Kim Nelson (General Mills), Ken Paulus (Allina), Brian Rosenberg (Macalester), Steven Rosenstone (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities), Andy Slavitt (Ingenix), and Judy Werthauser (Target). In addition, an advisory group of 40+ community and civic leaders have provided guidance and counsel. 

1 State Higher Education Executive Officers Organization.

2 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, "Percent of Jobs Requiring Postsecondary
Education in 2018," 2010

3 Percentage of adults holding associate's degree or higher. OECD Database.

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