Top of the Class

The Twin Cities is a hub for education filled with top-rate teachers and stellar programs

Minnesota’s education report card boasts A after A across the board. In fact, it’s No. 13 in the nation according to U.S. News’ 2018 Best States for Education list. This ranking does not surprise Minnesota residents, whose schools boast hundreds of accolades and educational opportunities for learners of all ages, showcasing one of the richest learning environments in the country.

Public and private grade schools—for which Minnesota is ranked No. 8 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 82 percent graduation rate—and college. According to the Office of Higher Education, in 2012, Minnesota ranked second in the nation for the number of adults ages 25 to 64 who have earned at least an associate’s degree (48 percent), and 24 percent of the adult population had earned their 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-class leader in raising the bar for academic standards and outcomes. We offer exceptional educational choices with our nationally ranked public schools, prestigious private schools, and array of rigorous public and private colleges and universities. No matter what you’re looking for, we’re sure to have a school for you.

Search our online Education Directory for the right school for your children, or read on for an overview of education options in the Twin Cities.

Public Schools

Twin Cities families have a vast number of public schools to choose from—so many that it can be difficult to decide between them. Types of public schools within the greater metro area include traditional public schools, charter schools, immersion schools and alternative programs. Minnesota’s open enrollment policy, an option 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, as long as there is room at the school and the parents are able to provide transportation. This policy also gives schools an incentive to maintain their competitive edge for student enrollment retention both in their home neighborhoods and beyond.

The two main public school districts in the immediate Twin Cities are the Minneapolis School District, which educates over 35,000 students, and the St. Paul School District, which serves nearly 40,000 students and is one of the state’s largest school districts. While they make up a significant portion of the Twin Cities’ education system, these districts contain only a fraction of the total number of schools and educational programs throughout Minneapolis-St. Paul and the surrounding metro.

One type of school within 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 organization. The nation’s first charter schools opened in Minnesota in 1992. 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. Immersion schools promote bilingualism, with students mastering a second language—including French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and more—well enough to learn core academic subjects in it. This skill is becoming more and more crucial to our increasingly global society, thanks to the prevalent role of technology in everyday life and work environments.

There are individual schools in the Twin Cities that specialize in promoting bilingualism, such as 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 27.5 compared to the national 2017 graduating class average of 21.

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

Students have the ability to customize their education even further by choosing from a variety of advanced and alternative courses to fit their own strengths and interests. There are many college preparatory options available to students, including Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB) and Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) programs.

AP is a course option created by the College Board, who also administers the SAT test. Their AP courses offer high school students the opportunity to tackle college-level curricula taught by their high school teachers without needing to commute to a college campus. The students are then able to take proctored exams following the classes to qualify for simultaneous college credit. Out of the 444 public schools statewide, 250 offer AP courses. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, 45,348 students took AP exams in 2016-2017. Out of the total exams taken, 66 percent passed the exam and achieved college credit. Transfer criteria for each exam ultimately depend on the institution’s academic policies.

IB is a similar program that is a more recent addition to the United States’ academic community. Founded in Europe, it offers students ages 3 to 19 cross-disciplinary programming designed to provide a global education and cultivate lifelong learners. South Saint Paul school district is home to Minnesota’s first IB program. Many other Twin Cities schools, including suburban schools such as Minnetonka High School and Brooklyn Center Senior High, have since become IB-authorized.

Another alternative option is for upperclassmen students to take college courses on a college campus through the PSEO program. Students in this program 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, and depending on the courses selected, there is a possibility 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 choose to be full time at the college or to split their time between the college and high school—many students are able to schedule college classes around their high school extracurricular activities as well.

In addition to outstanding education programs, many public schools offer excellent extracurricular activities, keeping kids active and involved after school. Minnetonka ranked at No. 9 on Niche’s 2017 list of Best High Schools for Athletes in America. Eden Prairie took the coveted No. 1 spot the year prior. Hopkins High School is also well known for its athletic programs, winning 50 state championships since the school was built in 1969. There are also artistic and academic programs available for students, including Math League, Model United Nations, Mock Trial, student newspaper, student government, theater and more.

Private Schools

Private schools, religiously affiliated or not, are great alternatives to the public school system. There are over 600 private schools throughout the state of Minnesota that enroll nearly 100,000 students. Class size depends on the school, but the average private school class size is 15, 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 are able to 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. Two popular Catholic private schools are Benilde-St. Margaret’s in Minneapolis, which serves upwards of 1,000 students grades 7 through 12, and St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall, the largest private Catholic school in the state. Breck School in Golden Valley, while technically affiliated with the Episcopal church, welcomes students from a variety of faith traditions. This introduces a valuable element of diversity to the school, inviting 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 preK 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 many non-denominational private school options as well. The coeducational St. Paul Academy and Summit School, formed from the joining of the St. Paul Academy for boys and St. Paul Summit for girls in 1969, is a premier example located in the capital city. The school enrolls roughly 1,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade and has a challenging academic program that encourages and inspires students to achieve at every grade level.

For another nonsectarian option, students may also attend The Blake School, a coeducational, independent private school ranked by Niche as the No. 1 private high school in Minnesota for 2017. Blake has three campuses spread throughout the Twin Cities: Hopkins (preK through 8), Minneapolis (9 through 12) and Wayzata (preK through 5). The school pulls its 1,375 students from about 55 Twin Cities neighborhoods

There are private school opportunities for students with special interests and talents, too. Students may attend the International School of Minnesota in Eden Prairie to gain global experience. The student body, comprised of preK through grade 12, and faculty combined represent more than 40 countries and 30 languages, exposing each student to horizons beyond the Twin Cities metro.

Other schools include the Performing Institute of Minnesota Arts High School and the Saint Paul Conservatory. These schools, in addition to their academic curriculum, also focus on the arts. 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.

Colleges & Universities

The Twin Cities offer exceptional higher education options with dozens of colleges and universities in the area.

One of our most notable assets is the University of Minnesota. This Division I school has five campuses, with its main campus residing in the Twin Cities in three distinct parts—East Bank, West Bank and St. Paul. East Bank and West Bank are split by the Mississippi River. The former borders a bustling strip of stores, nightlife and dining called Dinkytown, and the latter is walking distance from downtown Minneapolis. Hop on the free campus connector buses, which run every 5 minutes during the school day, and take a trip to the St. Paul part of the campus where its rolling grasses and smaller building clusters 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 about 31,000, with
graduates making up another 16,000. This substantial student body expands the opportunities available to students, meaning a larger selection of major programs, athletics and student clubs. In fact, there are 150 majors available for undergraduates, 23 varsity teams and 800 student groups. There are many academic graduate options as well, including the Carlson School of Management, the Medical School and the Law School. These schools are all nationally recognized, with the Law School—one of the top 20 law schools in the country—holding one of the highest bar passage rates in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The U of M as a whole is the 13th-best public school in the country in 2017, as determined by Business First, and is nationally ranked as a research university as well.

The U of M is part of a larger network of institutions called Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. This statewide system contains 30 colleges and seven universities. Altogether, it serves 400,000 students, making it the fourth largest system of two- and four-year higher education programs. Other Minnesota State schools include Normandale Community College, Saint Paul College and Metropolitan State University.

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, Midway Center in St. Paul and western suburb Brooklyn Park. Metro State serves 11,000 students annually with about 60 undergraduate majors, 17 graduate degrees and two doctorates, and also offers certificates, diplomas and two-year associate degrees.

In addition to Minnesota State, the Minnesota Private College Council represents 17 liberal arts colleges and universities. Eight of them are conveniently located in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Minnesota private colleges served a collective 40,640 undergraduate students in the 2016-2017 school year and boast the No. 1 graduation rate in the Midwest.

Minnesota’s very first university still has its doors open and shows just how the state’s universities blend history and modern updates. Hamline University, located in St. Paul and founded in 1854, earned the No. 16 spot on U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 ranking of regional universities. It attracts a diverse student body of 3,852 students combined between undergraduate and graduate program levels. The college has extremely well-regarded graduate programs in management, education and law, and offers over 50 areas of study for undergraduates. Tied just above Hamline on the list are Bethel University, an interdenominational Christian university, and St. Catherine’s University, which is locally known as St. Kate’s and serves a female-majority population.

For a more mid-size 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 of Minnesota, and between its undergraduate and graduate students, the school enrolls nearly 10,000 students. Students can choose from more than 90 majors and can enroll in more than 60 different degree programs at the graduate level. Studying abroad is also encouraged, with nearly half the students participating in the about 160 study abroad programs spread over more than 45 countries. Overall, the Princeton Review recognizes St. Thomas as No. 8 for Quality of Life, but the school shines in specific areas such as law, as well. Historically ranking in numerous top-10 lists, the School of Law at the University of St. Thomas also earned the No. 1 spot for Externships and No. 2 spot for Practical Training from National Jurist.

Adding to the Twin Cities’ reputation as a hub for education are many specialized programs or technical schools available for students with talents in specific areas of study. For students interested in design, media arts or fine arts, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is an excellent choice. The small, four-year private college offers majors in
graphic design, photography, animation, painting and more. Over in Bloomington, the Northwestern Health Sciences University offers degrees in holistic medicines and treatments such as massage therapy and chiropractor sessions.

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