Mark Misukanis: Minnesota colleges over-produce some degrees, under-produce others, specialist says

The Civic Caucus,, also spoke with Mark Misukanis about Minnesota's looming workforce crisis. Misukanis is an assistant professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, where he teaches courses on the economics and administ...

Mark Misukanis

The Civic Caucus,, also spoke with Mark Misukanis about Minnesota's looming workforce crisis. Misukanis is an assistant professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, where he teaches courses on the economics and administration of higher education. He also is a former director of finance and research at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

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, Misukanis said.

Carnevale predicted that 70 percent of the jobs in Minnesota would require some level of postsecondary credential by 2018. And "we're already there," Misukanis said, referencing a table he prepared in January.

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;

Ages 65 and over: 49 percent.

So, "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."

In fact, Misukanis' own projections suggest a need for the awarding of significantly fewer associate and bachelor degrees than the Georgetown model predicts..

"This results in the underemployment of highly educated people," Misukanis said. "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 question."


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. And Misukanis agreed, saying, "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, an interviewer commented. The interviewer asked Misukanis how much more connectivity there should be between business and industry and education.

"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 for?"

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 education.

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. We have industries with occupations here that pay more. We've needed a workforce that could serve those industries."

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.


Meanwhile, 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."

What To Read Next
Get Local