Leaving Minnesota? More high school grads heading elsewhere for college

Here’s the good news from today’s college attendance report by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education:

Minnesota’s college participation rate hit an all-time high in 2008 with 70.2 percent of the state’s 65,220 high school graduates enrolling immediately in a public or private college after high school.

Minnesota’s college participation rate has gradually increased over time and has been among the highest in the nation. But 2008 was the first year 70 percent of the state’s high school graduates enrolled immediately in college.

Here’s the data that should make you worry about Minnesota’s future workforce: Among those who did enroll in college after graduation, 28 percent enrolled out of state — and that percentage is increasing.

Is it a crisis? No. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paying attention. It’s a point we’ve been arguing repeatedly the past few months.


As Minnesota’s workforce ages and shrinks and high school and college graduates decrease, what happens when large numbers of high school graduates go to college elsewhere — and possibly not return to the state? Who will do the economy building — and tax paying — to sustain Minnesota?

After jumping 15 percent this decade, the State Demographic Center projects only an 8.7 percent increase in Minnesota’s labor force over the coming 25 years.

Yes, lots of people come to Minnesota and the quality of life and the workforce is high. But we’ve been living on that for decades and there’s increasing worry that Minnesota just can’t rely on that any more.

We’re heading for a stretch where that labor force will age significantly. Meanwhile, the number of Minnesota high school graduates is forecast to slide through 2015 after peaking this year.

Again, it’s not a crisis right now. And I have no idea how the private sector or government should respond. But the high school, college and labor force trends are running against Minnesota’s future. Shouldn’t we be talking about it?

If you have thoughts on today’s higher education data or Minnesota’s future workforce needs, post below or contact me directly.

MN high school graduates enrolling in college in IA, ND, SD, WI

Year Number Percentage
2004 6,969 16.9%
2006 7,337 17.0%
2008 8,377 18.4%

Source: MN Office of Higher Education

  • Bill Gleason

    The U of M has basically a fire sale on out of state (not reciprocity) tuition. It is $2000 K additional per semester over in state tuition. This is an absurdly low number compared to out of state tuition at most of our competitors.

    This means that they can “cherry pick” students with high ACT/SAT numbers from out of state to make themselves look good. Meanwhile qualified Minnesota residents are turned down.

    Bad policy?

  • John Olson

    In the day, the classic argument for going to a land-grant university like the University of Minnesota was that IF you chose to go elsewhere in the country, potential employers would at least know that it is a “Big Ten” school.

    In today’s world, we have people earning advanced degrees online and in other “nontraditional” settings. Many employers could generally care less, so long as that person can do the job. Yes, the U of M can cherry pick. So can the private schools (see Carleton and St. Olaf for examples of this phenomena). And a campus the size of the U of M Twin Cities is not for everyone.

  • Paul Tosto

    John, thanks. I think there’s been a bedrock belief that attending your state’s flagship university meant you’d earned a quality education no matter where in the country you went.