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Too often, the conversation about education in Michigan ends before talking about the future of higher education. To assure that the state prospers economically and Michiganders have secure futures over the next several decades, it is imperative that we embrace the tenet that all children can and will learn, achieve and be capable of pursuing postsecondary educational opportunities.

A high school diploma will be insufficient to obtain employment in this state and others in the next decade; and a professional career will be unattainable without substantial postsecondary education. Since most individuals will have at least seven or more jobs over their lifetime in constantly evolving careers, they will need to be more prepared than their parents and grandparents. And even though technology will transform the entire employment landscape, companies will still need talented, intelligent and skilled individuals to guide their respective businesses.

Unfortunately, high school graduation rates and postsecondary attainment rates of Michigan citizens are very low. In 2014, for example, roughly 30 percent percent of Michigan adults 25 and older had only a high school diploma; 24 percent had some college but no degree; 9 percent had an associate’s degree; and 17 percent had a bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral or professional degree. And even though recent average Michigan high school graduation rates show improvement like the rest of the nation, considerably more progress is needed.

Nationally, the most recent U.S. Department of Education high school graduation rate, for the class of 2014, was 82 percent, three points higher than Michigan’s average of 79 percent. That gap may seem small, but Michigan ranked 36th of 50 states. Furthermore, the national average high school graduation rate for low income students was 76 percent, compared with Michigan’s rate of 67.5 percent. That gap must and can be closed by taking deliberate steps such as setting high expectations for students; regularly evaluating students’ academic performance; supporting teachers and providing them with essential resources; keeping parents aware of their children’s progress; and other important strategies that contribute to the success of children and effective schools.

This is not a daunting task, but one that is achievable if we are determined to make sure that our youth will graduate from high school, be adequately prepared for postsecondary education and ready to enter the workforce.

Last year, the Business Leaders for Michigan issued a report clearly stating that “…jobs growing the most over the next three years will require some level of education beyond high school.” It further emphasized: “Jobs that require more education and training pay above average wages and are expected to increase by 2018, while jobs that require less education and training and pay below average wages are expected to contract.”

As a former elementary and secondary teacher and administrator and president of one of Michigan’s 112 colleges and universities, I am confident that our youth can and will exceed academic expectations to become the future leaders and professionals in Michigan’s 83 counties. And more postsecondary education will be the key to Michigan’s prosperous future.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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