Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) was honored to host U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez this week for a roundtable discussion with some of the Twin Cities leaders in business, education and technical careers in light of a nationwide push for tuition relief programs for community colleges.
During the event, co-hosted by Scholarship America with discussion moderation by their CEO Lauren Segal, Secretary Perez was joined by Congressman Keith Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, former mayor R.T. Rybak, Sen. Terri Bonoff, Rep. Frank Hornstein and other business and community leaders for an hour-long roundtable held at MCTC. Speakers discussed the need for community and technical college tuition relief in line with President Barack Obama’s proposed America’s College Promise. “The President’s ‘America’s College Promise’ is about making higher education accessible to everyone,” said Secretary Perez. “Our discussion today is about a movement. We want to create a movement to make sure this is a nation in which everybody gets the education they need for their job, whether it’s a job as a CNC machinist at Graco or a job in IT.”
The Secretary’s visit comes at the closure of the Minnesota legislative session, in which a proposal to fund a state-level tuition relief program for community and technical colleges passed with $100 million in biennium funding. Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, the Minnesota legislator who introduced the legislation, shared his inspiration for the proposal with roundtable attendees. “Minnesotans love education,” he said. “Education is the tool with which we’ve been able to keep the state’s economy going.”
MCTC and partners Saint Paul College and Metropolitan State University lead the way in statewide tuition relief programs, boasting several programs including one of the state’s first Power of YOU programs offering free tuition to qualifying first-generation high school students, a partnership with Hennepin County, and the fledgling Destination Diploma to Degree (D3) program. “We’re looking at career pathways from high school to postsecondary institutions,” said Sarah Caruso, president and CEO of the Greater Twin Cities United Way.
“Partnerships like D3 incorporate an understanding of the depth and complexity young people face as they consider college.” The D3 program places qualifying students from alternative high schools in relevant college classes, and recently received support from the United Way to grow its program beyond its initial launch.
“We are making college relevant for high schoolers,” said Pam Costain, president and CEO of AchieveMpls. “Minnesota is a national leader in youth employment and internships, making college relevant for high schoolers. I’m intrigued by the movement-building approach of the Secretary. It would require all of us in the room to collaborate with each other.”
“I think we’re making a mistake by assuming grade 12 is an end point,” said MCTC Interim President Avelino Mills-Novoa. “We should shift our mindset so that instead of K-12, P-14 is the base level of education we expect. If we don’t prepare young people to step into jobs, we’ll all suffer.”
Photo: Congressman Keith Ellison, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez