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JUNE 2013

Compass adds a key measure

Ruth Hamberg, Minnesota Compass

Ruth HambergWhich topic links education, the labor force, public funding, intellectual exploration, and the aspirations of families, individuals, and communities?

The answer: postsecondary education.

Situated at the intersection of life stages, participation in a college or training program after high school strongly influences a person's earnings and the local economy. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce, about 70 percent of jobs—equal to 2.1 million—in Minnesota will require postsecondary education by 2018. What’s more, the Office of Higher Education notes that adults with a bachelor’s degree earn nearly twice the amount annually as adults with a high school diploma or GED.

We added this measure to Compass to provide a view into how well K-12 education systems prepare students for further study and/or workforce entry, as well as shedding light on other trends that affect our quality of life. Connections between postsecondary attainment are not limited to solely economic or academic indicators. Post-secondary attainment is also related to health, specifically diabetes and obesity. Higher education also enriches our communities, contributing to lower crime rates, lower unemployment, and increased civic engagement.

Guided by our education advisory group, the measure includes graduates of both two-year public and private degree- and certificate-granting institutions, such as Alexandria Technical and Community College, and four-year public, private, for-profit, and not-for-profit institutions, such as Macalester College or the University of Minnesota.

We found that completion rates reflect some of the great successes of our state as well as some of the challenges. As Garrison Keillor might say, many of our education indicators are “above average”—although race-based gaps that persist to the postsecondary level imply that not all of Minnesota's residents fit this experience. Environment, social factors, and, in some cases, availability of quality schools and supports may play a role as students seek to reach their potential. Examining these data in context with workforce participation and jobs data can aid in planning for a strong future for all Minnesotans.

Some things to note:

  • We know that some students take less than the “normal” time to complete a program and that others take more. That’s why we look not only at (for example) four-year completion rates for a four-year program. Instead, we look at the rate for students who completed within six years. For a two-year program, we look at rates of completion within three years.
  • Our completion rate for students at two-year institutions includes students who complete a program as well as those who transfer to another program. Why? Many students attend a two-year institution before transferring to a four-year institution to complete a bachelor’s degree. Including completions and transfers ensures we measure a wider range of “success”—although you can find the separate rates by clicking “VIEW: Data & notes” on the gray tab for any graph.
  • Our source provides data for “first-time, full-time” students. Students who have previously attended a postsecondary institution and students who attend part-time are not included in the rate.

What have we learned from this new data?

Investigating questions about quality of life often leads to more questions. Here are some of the findings from our exploration of postsecondary completion rates, along with the questions they inspire.

1. Minnesota’s graduation rate at four-year institutions is better than the U.S. overall, but we only rank sixteenth among states. Our ranking is better for graduation rates at two-year institutions: 7th in the nation. (Note: Within Minnesota, our four-year completion rate is actually higher than the two-year rate.) What makes Minnesota land in these slots, and how can we learn from other states to strengthen our postsecondary programs?

2. "Non-resident alien” students—meaning students who are studying in the U.S. but are not residents—graduate at higher rates than Hispanic, Black, and American Indian students. However, this only occurs in four-year programs. In two-year programs, non-resident alien students graduate at a lower rate than white, Asian, Black, and Hispanic students. Given the diversity of the student body, how can programs help students succeed?

3. We see different completion rates depending on the type of institution. For example, 7 out of 10 students graduate on time from four-year private, not-for-profit institutions. At MnSCU schools, fewer than half of students do so. According to these data, the lowest on-time completion rates are found in private, for-profit institutions: just 1 in 3 completes within six years. What might this tell us about where to invest resources as individuals, families, organizations, and policy-makers?

4. The completion rate at Minnesota’s two-year institutions is 55 percent; that is, 1 in 2 first-time, full-time students that begin a program completes it within three years. An interesting point: institutions in Greater Minnesota have a slightly higher completion rate (57%) than the Twin Cities (54%). Timely degree completion can reduce student loan burden and help students move into careers (and earnings) sooner. The proportion of students who complete a degree will also impact the makeup and earning potential of our workforce. How can we balance the range of program types, student needs, and regional variation to meet the increased demand for skills gained through postsecondary education?

5. The completion gap between white students and students of color at the postsecondary level is 11 percentage points for four-year institutions and 12 for two-year institutions. This compares to 29 percentage points at high school graduation. Why does the gap narrow at the postsecondary level? More broadly, why do these gaps exist? These questions are part of a continued dialogue in which all of us participate at the individual, community, and regional level.

While not all Minnesotans will seek or require a postsecondary degree to pursue their goals, the value of effective postsecondary education is undeniable. Touching many aspects of public, professional, and individual life, postsecondary education will continue to be a powerful force in our state in years to come.

Don’t forget...

A few of the other things you can find in the postsecondary measure include:

Ranked list of institutions (two-year and four-year)
Completion rates by region (two-year and four-year)
Completion rates by gender (two-year and four-year)

Thank you…

Many thanks to the Education Advisory Group, which recommended adding this important measure.


Featured trend

Percentage of Minnesota adults age 25 or older with a bachelor's degree

Educational attainment among Minnesota’s adults continues to rise

Minnesota ranks among the 10 states with the highest shares of college-educated adults. Today, 37% of adults in Minnesota have a bachelor’s degree or higher, an increase of almost 10 percentage points since 2000.

See our educational attainment key measure for more on this topic.


Data Update


There are 20 counties in Minnesota in which at least one in five young children (age 0-5) lives in poverty

Foreign-born populations continue to grow as a proportion of the overall population, making up 9% of Minnesota’s population, up from 7% in 2010.

Approximately 38% of householders of color pay too much for housing.

The ratio of retirement-age adults (65+) to working-age adults (16-64) increased in 60 Minnesota cities, signaling disproportionate growth in the number of older adults compared to the working-age population.

Between 2016 and 2019, the share of Minnesota students who report being highly engaged in enrichment activities fell from 65% to nearly 60%.