Minnesota residents are staying in school longer than they were 10 years ago, and attaining higher levels of education. New demographic data from the 2000 census shows big increases over the past 10 years in the number of people who've attended college, as well as those with undergraduate and graduate degrees. There's also been a significant decline in the number of Minnesotans who dropped out of school at a young age.
The U.S. Census Bureau report says the number of Minnesotans who say their education stopped with a high school diploma or equivalency has remained stable in the past decade, at about 913,000. In 1990, there were 239,000 people in Minnesota who reported they had less than a ninth grade education. Data from the 2000 census put the number at 159,000, a 34 percent decline. The number of people who ended their education between the ninth and 12th grade also fell, by 11 percent.
Minnesota's top education official, Commissioner Christine Jax of the Department of Children, Families and Learning, says the trend isn't surprising for a traditionally well-educated state. She says educational attainment has a snowball affect.
"If you have parents who go to college, and then siblings who go to college, you're more likely to go on yourself, even if it's to a trade school or community college. Then there's the peer pressure as well to go on," says Jax. "I also think we're getting the message to our high school teachers and our high school students and parents that we're no longer a labor-based society, and if students really do want to have a lifestyle that they're used to with their parents, they're going to have to have more education than their parents."
"We've had three consecutive years of enrollment growth, and many of our campuses are now experiencing overcrowding. I think there is a definite issue of capacity that we need to take a serious look at."
- Linda Kohl, vice chancellor of MnSCU
Despite the statewide trend for improvement, several small, rural counties had double-digit increases in the number of people who left school before getting a high school diploma.
Pine County had a 19 percent increase, Wadena 17 percent and Swift 16 percent. Commissioner Jax says officials in those counties that aren't following the state trend should be concerned.
"Individual counties have to look at whether it's a situation of housing, transportation, the jobs that are available, what kind of post-secondary options are available - and determine what they can do to improve the situation," says Jax.
The state's largest counties, Hennepin and Ramsey, showed the biggest declines among people who ended their education with a high school diploma or less. Those improvements came in spite of the troubling graduation rates in the dominant urban school district in each county.
Craig Vana directs secondary academic support and career and technical education for Minneapolis Public Schools. He says district officials and teachers stress the importance for students to finish high school and pursue additional job training. Vana says he's increasingly concerned about those students who are left behind.
"Those students who didn't get the message for whatever reason, and have not pursued their education opportunities, are going to truly be the lost sheep...when it comes to economic development and quality of life," says Vana.
The number of Minnesota residents who attended college or completed a degree also grew during the decade. Those who said their highest level of education included some college increased 44 percent from 1990. The number of Minnesotans with associate degrees grew by three percent. People with bachelor's degrees increased 40 percent. And the those who've attained a graduate or professional degree jumped 52 percent.
Linda Kohl, vice chancellor of public affairs for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, says the numbers show the increased importance of higher education. She says the trend also points to future challenges.
"For the past three years we've had three consecutive years of enrollment growth, and many of our campuses are now experiencing overcrowding. So, I think there is a definite issue of capacity that we need to take a serious look at," says Kohl.
Scott County led the way in higher education, with a 164 percent increase in people with bachelor's degrees, and a 208 percent gain in graduate or professional degrees. Scott County is also the the state's fastest growing county, and now boasts the highest median household income.More from MPR