Twin Cities Education Makes the Grade

A guide to public schools, private schools, and higher education in the Twin Cities—where you’ll find top-rate teachers and a variety of options
Mounds Park Academy
Mounds Park Academy

Courtesy Mounds Park Academy

The quality of a community’s schools is central to a family’s choice of where to live, and Minnesota makes the grade. In fact, our schools are No. 13 in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 Best States for Education list. They boast hundreds of other accolades and educational opportunities for learners of all ages, as well, showcasing one of the richest learning environments in the country.

Public and private grade schools—for which Minnesota is ranked No. 7 in the nation on the same Best States for Education list—set the foundation for successful academic careers. This foundation builds into high school—for which Minnesota has an 83.2 percent graduation rate—and college. According to the Office of Higher Education, in 2015, Minnesota ranked second in the nation for the number of adults ages 25 to 64—50 percent—who have earned at least an associate’s degree, and 25 percent of the adult population had earned a bachelor’s degree. As a result of this large portion of high-achieving residents, the median income of $65,599 is about 12 percent higher than the national average.

Overall, Minnesota is a world leader in raising the bar for academic standards and outcomes. We offer exceptional educational choices, with nationally ranked public schools, prestigious private schools, and rigorous public and private colleges and universities.

Public Schools

Types of public schools in the greater metro area include traditional public schools, charter schools, immersion schools and alternative programs. Minnesota’s open enrollment policy, an option that barely half the states in the nation provide, allows for considerable flexibility in finding the perfect school for your child’s needs. Families can venture outside the geographical boundaries of their immediate neighborhoods to find the right education for their children, so long as there is room at the school and the parents are able to provide transportation. This policy incentivizes schools to retain students, both from their home neighborhoods and beyond.

The two main public school districts in the immediate Twin Cities are the Minneapolis School District, which educates over 36,000 students, and the St. Paul School District, which serves more than 37,000 students. While they make up a significant portion of the Twin Cities’ education system, these districts contain a fraction of the schools and educational programs in the metro.

One type of school under the public school umbrella is a charter school. Charter schools are independent public schools sponsored by a school district, university, the state or a nonprofit. Today, there are 164 charter schools across the state, with over 60 percent of them housed in the greater metro area. Collectively, they serve roughly 57,000 students. These tuition-free schools are open to all students regardless of ability or need. They are governed and operated jointly by licensed teachers, parents and community members, and provide opportunities for students with specific talents or interests, including everything from performing arts to STEM-focused emphases.

Another type of school offered in the metro area is an immersion school, which promotes bilingualism. Students master a second language—whether it’s French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish or something else—and learn core academic subjects in it.

Immersion school options include Park Spanish Immersion School, which focuses on Spanish and English. Minnetonka Public Schools offer district-wide immersion options, as well. When entering kindergarten, families can elect to enroll in English, Chinese or Spanish immersion programs. This program also extends to Minnetonka’s middle school, making it the only middle school in the state and one of few in the nation to offer this option. Overall, the Minnetonka schools—immersion or not—carry high parental approval rates and some of the highest test scores in the metro, including an average ACT score of 27.7, which is almost 20 percent higher than the national 2018 graduating class average of 20.8.

Other languages with metro-area immersion school options include Mandarin Chinese (Forest Lake, Hopkins, Minneapolis and St. Paul), Hmong (St. Paul), Ojibwe and Dakota (Minneapolis), Korean (St. Paul), French (Edina, Minneapolis and St. Paul), German (St. Paul) and Spanish (St. Louis Park, Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Richfield, Robbinsdale/New Hope, Roseville, Fridley, Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Minneapolis and St. Paul).

Students can customize their education further by choosing from advanced and alternative courses to fit their own strengths and interests. College preparatory options available to students include Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB) and Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) programs.

AP courses offer high school students the opportunity to tackle college-level curricula taught by their high school teachers. The students can then take proctored exams to qualify for simultaneous college credit. Out of the 445 public schools statewide, 230 offer AP courses. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, 45,958 students took AP exams in 2017-2018. Out of the total exams taken, 66 percent passed the exam and achieved college credit. (Transfer criteria depend on the institution’s academic policies.)

IB is a more recent, similar program. Founded in Europe, it offers students ages 3 to 19 cross-disciplinary programming designed to provide a global education. South St. Paul school district is home to Minnesota’s first IB program serving students from kindergarten through grade 12. Many other Twin Cities schools—including Highland Park, also in St. Paul; Washburn High School in Minneapolis; and suburban schools such as Minnetonka High School and Brooklyn Center Senior High—have since become IB-authorized.

Another option is for upperclassmen students to take courses on a college campus through the PSEO program. Students take college courses that also fulfill their high school graduation requirements. The state of Minnesota covers all tuition, fees and textbook costs for the students in the program. Depending on the courses selected, it is possible for PSEO students to graduate from high school with their associate’s degree. Whether students choose a Big 10 university like the University of Minnesota, a private college or a community college, they can decide to be full time at the college or split their time between the college and high school.

In addition to these outstanding education programs, many public schools offer excellent extracurricular activities, keeping kids active and involved after school. Minnetonka High School, which ranked No. 1 on Niche’s 2019 list of Best Public High Schools in Minnesota, also earned No. 3 on Niche’s list for Best High Schools for Sports in Minnesota. The No. 1 honor for 2019 Best High School Sports in Minnesota goes to Wayzata High School. Hopkins High School is also well known for its athletic programs, winning 50 state championships since the school was built in 1969. Schools also offer artistic and academic programs, including Math League, Model United Nations, Mock Trial, student newspaper, student government, drama, marching band and more.

Blake School
Blake School

Courtesy Blake School

Private Schools

Private schools, religiously affiliated or not, are great alternatives to the public school system. There are over 600 throughout Minnesota, enrolling nearly 100,000 total students. Class size depends on the school, but the average private school class size is 15 nationally, so getting extra help and guidance is easy. In the Twin Cities metro alone, private schools serve more than 30,000 students at over 100 campuses. Private schools design their own curriculum, independent from government regulations, meaning they can customize programming to the needs of their students. Twin Cities private schools have a relatively high acceptance rate of 92 percent, which is higher than the national average by 7 percent.

A large number of the private schools in the Twin Cities are religiously affiliated. Popular Catholic private schools include Benilde-St. Margaret’s in St. Louis Park, which serves upwards of 1,100 students in grades 7 through 12, and St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall, which has a little over 1,000 students and offers a boarding option. DeLaSalle High School, located on historic Nicollet Island near downtown Minneapolis, has 762 students in grades
9 through 12, and, after graduation, 98 percent of them go straight on to college.

Breck School in Golden Valley, while technically affiliated with the Episcopal church, welcomes students from a variety of faith traditions. This introduces diversity to the school, challenging students to find common ground with one another and providing ample opportunities for life lessons in addition to their academics. The campus, housing 1,100 pre-K through grade 12 students, emphasizes an intersection of academics, arts, athletics and spirituality. Heritage Christian Academy and Bethany Academy, in Maple Grove and Bloomington, respectively, are among many other local schools that offer private, religiously influenced education.

There are also many non-denominational private school options. The Blake School, a coeducational private school, was ranked No. 1 on Niche’s 2019 Best Private High Schools in Minnesota list. Blake has three campuses spread throughout the Twin Cities: Hopkins (pre-K through 8), Minneapolis (9 through 12) and Wayzata (pre-K through 5). The school pulls its 1,375 students from about 55 Twin Cities neighborhoods. In Niche’s No. 2 spot is Mounds Park Academy in Maplewood, where students are challenged to “apply their knowledge to stir the human spirit, stand for justice and shake the world.” At No. 3 is the coeducational St. Paul Academy and Summit School, which formed when the St. Paul Academy for boys and St. Paul Summit for girls united in 1969. The school enrolls roughly 1,000 students from kindergarten to grade 12 and has a challenging academic program that encourages and inspires students to achieve at every grade level.

Students with special interests and talents can also find their fit at private schools. The Main Street School of Performing Arts in Hopkins and the Saint Paul Conservatory focus on the arts in addition to the core academic areas, and the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley teaches a two-year arts program to prepare students for careers in performance and visual arts. One option for a more global experience is the International School of Minnesota in Eden Prairie. The student body—comprised of pre-K through grade 12—and faculty represent more than 40 countries and 30 languages, exposing students to horizons beyond the Twin Cities metro.

Top Five Twin Cities High Schools

U.S. News & World Report reviewed 28,813 U.S. public high schools, and 161 Minnesota schools made the rankings. In the 2018 rankings, Minnesota has seven gold medal schools, 51 silver medal schools and 103 bronze medal schools.

1 Nova Classical Academy Upper School, St. Paul

2 Orono Senior High, Long Lake

3 Long Prairie-Grey Secondary School, Long Prairie

4 Math and Science Academy, Woodbury

5 Great River School, St. Paul

Source: 2018 U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools

University of St. Thomas
University of St. Thomas

Courtesy University of St. Thomas

Colleges & Universities

The Twin Cities offer dozens of exceptional higher education options. Some of the state’s top-ranked schools are found in or near St. Paul, including St. Catherine University, Macalester College and Bethel University. The state’s largest private university, the University of St. Thomas, is also in St. Paul (with a branch campus in Minneapolis). Meanwhile, the highest-enrolling campus in the state is the University of Minnesota.

This Division I school has five campuses across Minnesota, with its main campus in the Twin Cities, in three parts—East Bank, West Bank and St. Paul. The East Bank borders a bustling strip of stores and dining called Dinkytown, and the West Bank is walking distance from downtown Minneapolis. Hop on the free campus connector buses, which run every five minutes during the school day, and take a trip to the St. Paul campus, where its rolling grasses and smaller cluster of buildings add a private-school feel to the nearly 50,000-student university.

Undergraduate admissions at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities (U of M) have reached a little more than 31,500, with graduates making up another 16,000. There are 150 majors available for undergraduates, 23 varsity teams and 800 student groups. Among the diverse population represented on campus are 130 nations, with 7,197 international students.

The many graduate options at the U of M include the Carlson School of Management, the Medical School and the Law School, all nationally recognized. The Law School—one of the top 20 in the country—holds one of the highest bar-passage rates, according to U.S. News & World Report. In 2018, the U of M was ranked the No. 16 public school in the nation by the Business Journal, and year after year it has been nationally ranked as a research university.

The U of M is part of a network of institutions called Minnesota State, which contains 30 colleges and seven universities. Around the Twin Cities, other Minnesota State schools include Normandale Community College, St. Paul College and Metropolitan State University. Overall, more than 400,000 students are enrolled in Minnesota’s post-secondary institutions, making it the country’s fourth largest system of two- and four-year higher education programs.

University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Courtesy University of Minnesota

Metropolitan State University, one of the most ethnically diverse colleges in the state, is specially designed for professionals looking to finish a degree or further their education. It offers flexibility for working adults with plenty of weekend and evening class options at its locations in St. Paul, Minneapolis and western suburb Brooklyn Park. Metro State serves over 11,000 students annually with about 60 undergraduate majors, 17 graduate degrees and two doctorates. It also offers certificates, diplomas and two-year associate degrees.

In addition to the Minnesota State system, the Minnesota Private College Council represents 17 liberal arts colleges and universities. Eight of them are located in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minnesota’s private colleges collectively serve 40,600 undergraduate students in a school year and boast the No. 1 graduation rate in the Midwest.

Minnesota’s first university still has its doors open. Hamline University, located in St. Paul and founded in 1854, earned the No. 13 spot on U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 ranking of regional universities in the Midwest. The private institution attracts a diverse student body of around 3,600 students, combining undergraduate and graduate program levels. The college has well-regarded graduate programs in management, education and law, and it offers over 50 areas of study for undergraduates. Tied just above Hamline in the rankings are Bethel University, an interdenominational Christian university, and St. Catherine’s University, locally known as St. Kate’s and serving a female-
majority student body.

For a college between the size of Hamline and the University of Minnesota, check out options like the University of St. Thomas. Founded in 1885, this Catholic university is the largest private college in the state. Between its undergraduate and graduate students, the school enrolls nearly 10,000 students, who choose from 90-plus majors and can enroll in more than 60 degree programs at the graduate level. Studying abroad is encouraged, with nearly half of students participating in 160 or so programs spread over more than 45 countries. Overall, the Princeton Review recognizes St. Thomas as No. 7 for Quality of Life. Having ranked in numerous top-10 lists, St. Thomas’ law school, in 2018, was again named the No. 2 law school in the country for practical training by National Jurist.

Specialized programs and technical schools also nurture specific talents. For design, media arts and fine arts, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is a small, four-year private college with majors in graphic design, photography, animation, painting and more. In Bloomington, the Northwestern Health Sciences University offers degrees in holistic medicines and treatments such as massage therapy and chiropractor sessions.

Macalester College
Macalester College

Photo by Bill Denison

Spotlight: Macalester College

Described as an academic powerhouse by the Princeton Review, Macalester College in St. Paul is recognized as a global leader among liberal arts colleges, with high standards for scholarship and a commitment to internationalism, multiculturalism and service to society. To translate liberal arts education into real-world experiences, more than 60 courses partner with local businesses and organizations as part of the curriculum. There are also countless internship and research opportunities, such as at Fortune 500 companies, the Mayo Clinic and in areas of government. Macalester students include citizens of 97 countries, and the school encourages innovative thinking as part of an open, global environment.