Michael Le Roy is president of Calvin University in Grand Rapids. He also is chairman of the board of the Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities
The future of Michigan depends on the future of Michigan talent. And the demand for this talent can’t be developed without the substantial help of Michigan independent colleges and universities. For decades, the Michigan Tuition Grant has enabled an outstanding partnership between the state and its vibrant network of independent institutions to enable Michigan students to earn an excellent degree at a lower cost than the state can provide on its own.
One of these grant recipients, Calvin University senior Wesley Brooks II, comes from a middle-class family in Detroit and receives a Michigan Tuition Grant of $2,400. He is completing a degree in business operations and has made significant contributions during his internship at Spectrum Health. When he graduates in May, his considerable skills and talent will be in demand by many Michigan employers.
At Calvin University, like all of our independent colleges and universities, we multiply the effect of the state grant times four thanks to generous donors and friends who make Wesley’s education possible. Every $1 of state funding is matched or exceeded by $4 of charitable donations that help Calvin students. These private funds come to Calvin from donors and friends who believe in our particular mission and approach to educating students. This support has reduced the average debt load of our students by $4,000 over the last five years.
Legislators and our governor should take note that the declining birth rate in our state has reduced the pipeline for talented students. The number of college-bound high school students will be shrinking by about a third at a time when the large baby boom generation retires. These demographic forces promise to create a tremendous gap between the need for a talented workforce and our institutions’ ability to meet this need. Cutting the Michigan Tuition Grant will only increase this gap. Not to mention, it’ll also create the stress of additional student debt. This has negative implications for both our students and our state.
The economic benefits of a college education are substantial to our state. College graduates have lower unemployment rates, earn higher incomes, bring new businesses to the region, and contribute to the growth of the state’s economy. Those arguments are all very important to make. But, I would argue there is far more at stake than just money.
Studies make it clear that higher educational attainment offers significant general benefits to our society. Gallup is currently conducting a study on the concept of well-being, based on the subcategories of career, social, financial, physical, and community well-being. These are key elements that lead to human flourishing and key areas developed and supported by the curriculum and excellent instruction at Michigan’s Independent Colleges and Universities.
In its extensive research, Gallup has found that the single most important predictor of well-being across each of these areas is the completion of a four-year degree. The Michigan Tuition Grant can continue to be that small, but mighty, investment in the future of our state and students. It’s an investment in the well-being of Michigan — a blending of the individual and common good. I urge state lawmakers and our governor to find a solution that restores this small, but mighty investment in Michigan’s future.