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Opinion | Congrats on your high school graduation. Now go to college!

The election of new state leaders presents an opportunity for all of us to embrace the notion that “college is for everyone.” At Detroit College Access Network (DCAN), we define college as a valuable post-secondary education beyond high school including professional and technical certificates and credentials, apprenticeships, and four- and two-year degrees.

The old saying “college is not for everyone” fails to acknowledge the thousands of jobs that require some form of post-secondary education. We are asking elected officials to join us in telling young people and adults they are college material and there is a college path for them.

Michigan students and families deserve the opportunity to utilize resources to navigate all post-secondary options available to them. Professional and technical certificates, credentials and apprenticeships are great options for many students and their families because of affordability and accelerated programing. Students can gain access to these programs through Detroit At Work centers, the Detroit Training Center, other workforce development programs, and community colleges.

It can be the pathway to a job as a machining apprentice with an average annual salary of $32,000 to $38,000, or a job as a dental hygienist with an average salary of $56,000 to $71,000. Both jobs require at least two years of college or work-as-you-learn training and credentials.

Community colleges can provide a route to careers in health care, information technology and trades that require professional certificates, work-as-you-learn apprenticeships, or two-year associate degrees. If a student wants to go beyond a certificate, credential, or associate degree, community college can serve as a stepping stone to a four-year degree. With a four-year degree, education, qualifications, and earning potential are further increased. A worker with a bachelor’s degree can earn 84 percent more money than a peer with only a high school diploma during their lifetime.

We need an all-of-the-above college strategy to increase the percentage of adults in Michigan with a bachelor’s degree, associate degrees, certificates, or high-quality credentials. Current studies show that by 2020, 70 percent of jobs in Michigan will require some form of post-secondary education. However, only 44 percent of Michigan residents ages 25-64 have some form of a post-secondary education credential.

The recent Total Talent report from the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (MIHEART) recommended state legislators significantly increase need-based state financial aid to make college and technical training schools more affordable and accessible. MIHEART recommended state policies that make it easier to transfer credit hours between educational institutions, increase dual-enrollment for high school students to take college classes, and more aggressive outreach to one-fifth of Michigan’s workers who have no education beyond a high school diploma to get them into and through post-secondary institutions.

All elected officials need to come together in January and agree that college is for everyone and create clear, affordable pathways to post-secondary degrees - for both 18-year-olds coming out of high school and 40-year-olds who desire to be retrained for the jobs of the future. By guiding more Michigan citizens into diverse pathways to earn a bachelor’s degree and other post-secondary credentials, we can foster upward economic mobility for their families and meet the growing workforce demands of employers.

DCAN is ready to reach out to our newly elected officials to provide support. We need to work together and recognize every pathway is important and worth celebrating. Michigan’s economic future depends on it.

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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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