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Skilled Manpower in the Making

by Luke Greiner and Mark Schultz
September 2017

Nearly 6,000 students successfully graduate from higher education institutions in Southwest Minnesota every year. Each fresh new wave of students embarking on the higher education pathway can learn what to expect from their investment by looking at the employment outcomes of students who have graduated before them.

Data from DEED’s Graduate Employment Outcomes (GEO) tool show how many recent Minnesota graduates found jobs at employers in the state after graduation, and also shows the median wages earned and the top industries where graduates found jobs. The GEO tool allows users to search by year, location, award type, institution type, and instructional program.

These employment outcomes for previous graduates can provide clues and telltale signs that will likely predict the futures of each new graduating class at the colleges, universities, and trade schools in Southwest Minnesota. The data also help local businesses and workforce development agencies see what types of occupations local students are being prepared for.

Although more data are available for other educational programs at each of the 11 higher education institutions in the region, this article focuses solely on the programs with the largest number of graduates in 2014 – the most recent year with available data. Also because of a lack of GEO data availability, Rasmussen College in Mankato, Avalon School of Cosmetology in Worthington, and Martin Luther College in New Ulm are not included in the analysis for this article.

Most Popular

For all award types from all higher education institutions in the region, the most popular program was Registered Nursing (RN), graduating 429 students in 2014. Of those, 311 completed a Bachelor’s version while 118 opted for the two-year Associate degree.

The second largest program in Southwest Minnesota was Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies, and Humanities. With 365 graduates, this two-year Associate degree program has become increasingly prominent in the region, with 61 percent more graduates in 2014 than in 2010. Not necessarily aligned with any specific career, the Liberal Arts and General Studies program is often thought of as a stepping stone for students to work towards a Bachelor’s degree in the future.

Although the Liberal Arts and General Studies program was very popular, the path from completion to a degree or a career was less consistent than expected. GEO data show that by the third year after graduating from this program, the largest share end up working in the Health Care industry, possibly while continuing their education. However, according to a recent DEED article focusing on the employment outcomes of graduates who “stack credentials,” most graduates in Liberal Arts and General Studies do not actually go on to complete a four-year degree.1 Looking back at Southwestern Minnesota graduates from the Class of 2011, by the sixth year after graduating – which would have provided ample time to complete a subsequent Bachelor’s degree – most graduates had not yet found jobs earning more than $18 per hour.

Finally with more than 350 graduates in 2014, Business Administration, Management, and Operations programs continued to play an important role in supplying the region with managers and business operations candidates. Other popular business-related programs include Communications and Media Studies, Accounting and Related Services, Marketing, and Finance and Financial Management Services.

Table 1. List of Postsecondary Institutions in Southwest Minnesota
Name Location Number of Students
Minnesota State University, Mankato Mankato 15,165
Southwest Minnesota State University Marshall 7,495
Minnesota West Community and Technical College Granite Falls (Canby, Jackson, Pipestone, Worthington) 3,050
South Central College North Mankato 2,807
Gustavus Adolphus College St. Peter 2,250
Martin Luther College New Ulm 937
Bethany Lutheran College Mankato 587
Avalon School of Cosmetology Worthington 25
Presentation College Fairmont N/A
Rasmussen College Mankato N/A
Nova Academy of Cosmetology Mankato N/A
Source: National Center for Educational Statistics, College Navigator
Table 2. Top 20 Programs in Southwest Minnesota by Number of Graduates, Class of 2013-2014
Instructional Program Graduates
Registered Nursing, Nursing Admin., Research, and Clinical Nursing 429
Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies, and Humanities 365
Business Administration, Management, and Operations 355
Health and Physical Education/Fitness 220
Communication and Media Studies 197
Psychology, General 181
Accounting and Related Services 179
Criminal Justice and Corrections 179
Biology, General 176
Education, General 165
Teacher Education and Professional Development, Specific Levels 153
Practical Nursing, Vocational Nursing, and Nursing Assistants 130
Social Work 121
Teacher Education and Professional Development, Subject Areas 119
English Language and Literature, General 112
Marketing 101
Finance and Financial Management Services 88
Educational Administration and Supervision 86
Special Education and Teaching 85
Health and Medical Administrative Services 71
Source: DEED, Graduate Employment Outcomes

The College Experience

Closer examination of the most popular program at each educational institution in Southwest Minnesota illustrates the differences in outcomes after completion. This type of analysis could be done for many more programs to learn what happens to graduates when they apply their new skills to the labor market. Although the economy is constantly changing, students looking to plan their education, determine the best way to finance it, and figure out what to expect after graduating should take advantage of GEO data to inform their decision making.

Results from the Class of 2011 provide insight on how graduates have fared in the labor market over six years. As shown in Figure 1, median hourly wages earned by graduates are plotted by lines that indicate the leading industry of employment for graduates in their third year after graduating. Figure 1 includes only the lead employing industry, but the full version of the GEO tool provides the top seven employing industries and the median hourly wage earned by graduates in each industry. The top employment and wages earned in each region is available as well.

Figure 1. Median Hourly Wage and Top Employing Industry for Graduates of the Most Popular Programs in Southwest Minnesota, Class of 2011

Although Manufacturing is the largest industry in Southwest Minnesota, the leading industry of employment for graduates of four of the largest programs in the region is Health Care. Unlike many other programs, Registered Nursing prepares graduates for a single occupation. Graduates from the Registered Nursing program at both Minnesota State University, Mankato and Presentation College in Fairmont are clearly finding employment in the nursing field, since Health Care is the top employing industry. Just two years after graduating from either school, most graduates are earning over $30 per hour, although many end up working in the Twin Cities. In contrast, graduates from two-year Registered Nursing programs were more likely to remain in the region and saw lower wages. Where they are employed is a major factor, including hospitals and ambulatory health care services versus nursing home care.

The largest graduating program at Gustavus Adolphus College was General Biology, with 52 graduates in 2014. While the leading employing industry for this program was also Health Care, graduates earn far less than those coming out of the Registered Nursing program. The median hourly wage for graduates from the Class of 2011 started at less than $14 per hour two years after graduating, but thanks to a steep wage trajectory, climbed to $23.63 by their sixth year at work.

Over 120 graduates successfully completed a Master's degree in Education at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) in 2014, making it the largest program in terms of graduates. However, it's likely that many of these graduates are mid-career teachers with experience to bolster their education, leading to median hourly wages of $41.33 by their fifth year after completion.

The largest program for undergraduate degrees at SMSU was Business Administration, Management, and Operations, with 78 students graduating in 2014. Wages for graduates of this program from SMSU topped $26 per hour as recently as their second year after completion.

Bethany Lutheran College graduated 21 from their Business Administration, Management, and Operations Bachelor's degree program in 2014, making it their largest program. Since full data were not available for the Class of 2011, data from 2010 were used instead. These graduates were largely employed in the Finance and Insurance industry and by their fifth year after college were earning over $20 per hour at the median.

Much like Registered Nursing programs, the Nova Academy of Cosmetology prepares students for a specific set of personal care and service occupations. Although cosmetologists and hairdressers are in high demand in the region, wages for new graduates are low, and growth is somewhat stagnant. Of the 41 graduates from the academy in 2011, the median hourly wage by the sixth year after graduation had not topped $13 per hour, including tips unless they are not claimed. One factor some people try to use to explain the low wages is that self-employment is not included in the data. However, GEO data show that 87.8 percent of graduates from the Class of 2011 at this school were working for someone other than themselves by their second year after graduating. The lead employing industry and median wages accurately align with the typical wage shown for this occupation in other datasets, suggesting that most graduates are working in the field for which they are trained.

Although they also have a wide range of career programs, Liberal Arts and General Studies produced the largest number of graduates from both Minnesota West Community and Technical College and South Central College, with 122 and 168 respectively for the Class of 2014. This wasn't always the case – just four years earlier, the largest graduating program at South Central College was Registered Nursing, while Electrical and Power Transmission Installation led the way at Minnesota West.

The Liberal Arts and General Studies program is designed to help students earn an Associate's degree and then transition to a university to complete a Bachelor's degree. Unfortunately, most students do not successfully complete the transition or at least not in a timely manner. For example, if the plan is to earn a Bachelor's degree using a "2+2 method" (two years at a technical college + two years at a university), graduates with Associate's degree should have been able to complete a Bachelor's degree and find suitable employment within six years. But as indicated in Figure 1, median wages for graduates from the Liberal Arts and General Studies programs at both colleges remained low, and the leading employing industries were Retail Trade and Health Care for South Central and Minnesota West, respectively.

Meeting Demand

Outside of Liberal Arts and General Studies, most of the top graduating programs at institutions of higher learning in the region have specific occupations related to the program completed by graduated students. The National Center for Education Statistics publishes a crosswalk that matches educational programs with the most likely occupational outcomes for graduates.2

Many of the jobs that students in these programs are being trained for are in high demand, with just over half ranking near the top of DEED's Occupations in Demand list for Southwest Minnesota, having demand indicators of four and five stars. However, that also means that many other jobs related to the top programs of study are showing moderate to low demand in the region.

In addition to current demand, students also need to look at future employment projections. While having a high demand indicator is typically related to job growth, as with Operations Research Analysts, Fundraisers, and Natural Sciences Managers just to name a few, having a high demand indicator does not necessarily equate to job growth. For example, Sales Managers and Elementary, Middle School, and Secondary School Teachers all have a five-star demand indicator, yet are expected to see employment losses from 2014 to 2024.

Even for those occupations that have relatively low demand or projected employment declines, there is often still a need for trained replacements to fill existing jobs left vacant by individuals leaving the occupation for some reason, such as retiring or finding a new job. Students going into these programs can still find opportunities in the region, but may have to look at related occupations (see Table 3).

Table 3. Demand Rank, Growth Rate, and Projected Openings for Occupations Related to the Top Academic Program by Institution in Southwest Minnesota
Educational Institution, Program, and Award Current Demand Indicator Median Hourly Wage Growth Rate, 2014-2024 Projected Openings, 2014-2024
Bethany Lutheran - Business Administration, Management and Operations - Bachelor's Degree
11-2022 Sales Managers ★★★★★ $45.74 -0.9% 100
11-3021 Computer and Information Systems Managers ★★★★★ $47.23 3% 30
11-9021 Construction Managers ★★★★★ $40.24 2.4% 40
13-1051 Cost Estimators ★★★★★ $24.83 2.2% 80
13-1151 Training and Development Specialists ★★★★★ $25.41 -2.6% 30
13-1161 Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists ★★★★★ $24.88 8.1% 70
49-1011 First-Line Supervisors of Mechanics/Installers/Repairers ★★★★ $30.14 0.2% 120
11-3051 Industrial Production Managers ★★★★ $39.49 1.6% 110
13-1111 Management Analysts ★★★★ $36.20 4.6% 60
11-3061 Purchasing Managers ★★★★ $48.73 -3.2% 20
15-2031 Operations Research Analysts ★★★★ $48.68 15.0% N/A
13-1081 Logisticians ★★★★ $30.68 -10.2% NA
13-1141 Compensation, Benefits and Job Analysis Specialists ★★★ $31.80 -4.1% 10
11-3011 Administrative Services Managers ★★ $37.21 0.8% 50
11-9151 Social and Community Service Managers ★★ $32.58 8.3% 80
11-3071 Transportation, Storage and Distribution Managers ★★ $36.90 4.7% 20
Gustavus Adolphus - General Biology - Bachelor's Degree
25-2031 Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education ★★★★★ $53,928 -4.1% 370
11-9121 Natural Sciences Managers ★★★★ $54.58 13.2% 10
19-4021 Biological Technicians ★★★★ $19.55 -4.4% 10
19-1011 Animal Scientists ★★★ $49.57 -8.3% 0
19-1012 Food Scientists and Technologists ★★ $31.33 -3.7% 10
19-2022 Microbiologists ★★ N/A -14.3% 0
19-1021 Biochemists and Biophysicists N/A 0.0% 0
19-1023 Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists $29.97 -6.2% 10
19-1013 Soil and Plant Scientists $28.63 14.0% 20
Minnesota State University, Mankato and Presentation College - Registered Nursing - Bachelor's Degree
29-1141 Registered Nurses ★★★★★ $27.92 5.0% 960
Southwest Minnesota State University - General Education - Graduate Degree
25-2021 Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education ★★★★★ $51,552 -4.4% 450
25-2031 Secondary School Teachers, Except Special Education ★★★★★ $53,928 -4.1% 370
25-2022 Middle School Teachers, Except Special Education ★★★★★ $52,382 -4.6% 100
25-2032 Career/Technical Education Teachers, Secondary School ★★★ $56,021 -4.3% 10
25-2023 Career/Technical Education Teachers, Middle School ★★ $39,503 0.0% 0
25-2012 Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education $45,511 -4.8% 60
Nova School of Cosmetology, Mankato - Cosmetology and Professional Grooming Services - Certificate
39-5012 Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists ★★★★ $11.70 2.6% 250
39-5092 Manicurists and Pedicurists ★★ N/A 3.4% N/A
Source: DEED Occupations in Demand, Occupational Employment Statistics; Employment Outlook

1Leibert, Alessia. "Stackable Credentials: Myths and Reality." Trends, March 2017.

2 Classification of Instructional Programs. National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved from

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