Brian Whiston is the State Superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education
Gov. Rick Snyder declared October “Michigan College Month” and I’m proud to support the governor and other education organizations’ efforts to increase postsecondary education in Michigan.
Getting students focused on a path that excites and inspires them will help prepare them for postsecondary success and a fulfilling career. Our goal to have Michigan become a Top 10 education state in 10 years will assist our students in this effort and drive a prosperous Michigan now and into the future.
Michigan College Month aims to help ease the stress of the college application process by dedicating time and resources to ensure all high school seniors have submitted at least one college application, applied for at least one scholarship and have filed the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Special efforts are being made to reach out to low-income students and to students who would be the first in their family to attend college.
Last year, the Governor appointed two powerful commissions, comprised of experts in their respective fields. These leaders spent months examining data to better understand the education and economic needs of Michigan in the years to come. The result of these commissions was the 21st Century Education Commission and 21st Century Economic Commission reports.
The biggest takeaway from each report? In order to position our state for success, we’ll need to prioritize postsecondary education as an essential building block between our economic success and growing our resident’s financial stability.
As a lifelong proponent of education, I’m not surprised by the connection between postsecondary education and economic stability. I want to encourage our residents to adjust their mindsets. The days when a high school graduate could financially support a family on a high school diploma has become more rare than it is the norm.
An essential sea change must happen for Michigan to continue to evolve. One of the highlights of these reports was that it is essential for Michigan to change the mindsets of our residents to value postsecondary education to position our state as a national leader in developing talent.
The 21st Century Education Commission report outlines ambitious college attainment goals:
By 2025, 70 percent or more of our 25-year-olds will have completed a college degree, occupational certificate, apprenticeship or formal skill training.
Eliminate the equity gap at the college enrollment level: By 2025, the high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment gap between low-income and middle-income children in Michigan will have disappeared.
The commission crafting the reports define postsecondary education as education that occurs after high school that leads to a marketable credential. Marketable credentials include: all forms of degrees, certificates and industry certifications that may be awarded by career and technical programs, colleges or employers.
Our students need the support to go beyond high school. We need parents, teachers, school counselors and administrators to encourage and inspire students to get to that next level. We need to inform them about the great careers waiting for them, and show them the way and provide the opportunity for every student to pursue their career passions and dreams.
I encourage everyone to get on board with Michigan College Month. Throughout the entire month of October, high schools across the state will be participating and encouraging every senior to apply to at least one college or university and to fill out an application for financial aid.
I applaud efforts to increase the number of Michigan students furthering their education beyond high school. Sometimes a student realizing they are college material is the influence of several people working together. It often takes a diverse network of support, all working in concert to encourage students to reach higher. I’m proud to know many teachers, parents, educators, business owners and advisers who are working everyday to connect with students to make a difference.
Research shows a strong correlation between postsecondary success and long-term financial stability and social mobility. Our state’s economic future hinges on students attaining postsecondary credentials. The data demonstrate pursuing higher education would improve Michigan’s economy and, more importantly, make a lasting influence on the direction and futures of our kids.