Opinion | Another governor, another college plan with no accountability
Gov. Whitmer wants 60 percent of working age residents to have a post-high school credential of some kind by 2030. The state would need 500,000 more people to earn degrees to meet this goal. Credential targets are a game that’s been played before. But policymakers appear to have learned nothing from the failures of previous attempts at similar goals.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm wanted to double the number of college graduates between 2004-2014. Michigan did not double the number of college graduates. There isn’t a good comparable measure for 2004 from the Census Bureau, but the share of people 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree increased from 21.8 percent in 2000 to 27.4 percent in 2014. An improvement, but well short of the governor’s lofty goal.
Next came Gov. Rick Snyder. He aimed for 70 percent of adults getting a degree, certification or skilled training by 2025. This never stood a chance. The latest numbers, provided by the Lumina Foundation, have the state sitting at 50.5 percent on this measure.
Granholm and Snyder set up commissions to get the state to its goals. Commission members created a grab-bag of things with questionable relationships to the established goal. Snyder’s commission called for investment in prenatal education, whatever that means. Granholm asked lawmakers to “create a culture of entrepreneurship.” Neither of them made actionable recommendations, nor considered whether their ideas were sufficient to meet the target numbers.
In other words, there was no plan for getting to the goal.
Whitmer doesn’t seem to have much of a plan, either. She established an office rather than a commission. It promotes a handful of state scholarship programs and asks people to be supporters, advocates, change leaders and champions of the goal. A bunch of organizations have signed on already. It is unsurprising that many of the advocates for pushing more people to get postsecondary credentials are institutions that get paid for offering these credentials.
The governor does have a strategic plan for her Sixty by 30 project. But it’s filled with hollow buzzwords and few meaningful activities. It declares that the state will “promote the importance of postsecondary education for all,” “address the skills gap,” “actively engage with employers” and “partner with K-12 to increase college-going.” There’s nothing specific about how the governor plans to meet the goal.
To be fair, there are a few programs the state operates that more directly support this effort. The Going PRO Talent Fund provides subsidies to businesses to get skilled training for their employees. But the program is unlikely to make much of a dent in the purported credential deficit; Going PRO supports training for only about 15,000 employees annually.
There’s also Michigan Reconnect. This program subsidizes community college tuition for people older than 25 who do not already have a degree. Since it was launched in early 2021, Michigan Reconnect has gotten 18,000 people to enroll in community college. Not all of them will get that degree, though. Only about a quarter of students who enroll in Michigan community colleges end up graduating.
Instead of adding another program, lawmakers ought to reconsider the $1.8 billion they hand to state universities and community colleges each year. Lawmakers shower the institutions with cash. How much each institution gets is based on politics. Using this money to encourage degree completions instead of giving it to universities with no strings attached would do a lot more than a couple of extra scholarship programs.
One reason governors keep creating these goals is that there is no accountability for missing the targets. No one has skin in the game. No one gets demerited for failing to achieve the goal. No one needs to apologize if the state fails again to meet an unrealistic aim.
But elected officials ought to learn from this experience. If they are serious about getting to their credential goals, they ought to create a plan and hold themselves accountable to it. There is a lot of taxpayer money that institutions receive whether or not they help students get credentials. Without a tangible plan and without real accountability, there’s not much point to setting a goal.
See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:
- “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
- “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
- “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.
If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!