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Opinion | Defending the value of a college education in Michigan

Countless headlines in recent months would have you believe that a college degree is not worth the time and money required to earn one. There is no shortage of articles declaring that Americans have lost trust in the institutions of higher education.

Bob Davies headshot
Bob Davies is the president of Central Michigan University.

The reality is that going to college is as valuable as ever. We can and we must demonstrate the substantial benefits higher education offers to ensure it remains accessible to everyone in Michigan. 

Proving Our Value

Higher education forms a stepping stone – not a barrier – for individuals. Someone with a bachelor’s degree will typically earn substantially more than a person with just a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is called the college wage premium. 

A recent study by the Korn Ferry consulting firm found that demand for college graduates will continue to rise, which means the college wage premium is likely to increase. Additionally, The Michigan Department for Labor and Economic Opportunity says more than 75% of all Michigan jobs will soon require at least some education beyond high school. Higher education is not merely nice to have, it is becoming increasingly necessary for job seekers.

Attaining a degree makes individuals highly employable and ready to meet the growing demand for workers. CMU’s First Destination survey found that nearly 94% of our recent graduates were employed, in a service program, or continuing their education within six months of earning their degree. 

Employment and earning potential aside, the experience of college adds tremendous value to an individual’s life. The Pew Research Center found a significant number of Americans see college as a place for personal growth. It helps students construct a vision of the world and their place in it. College experiences help people discover who they are, explore concepts that shape their curiosity and gain perspective from mentors and fellow scholars. 

College graduates are also more likely to participate in civic life, according to a recent Gallup poll. The voting rate for those with a bachelor’s degree is significantly higher than rates among those with no post-secondary education. Degree holders also are more likely to volunteer, give to charity and join local organizations.

Michigan’s Higher Education Priority

The Growing Michigan Together Council examined ways the state can encourage population growth. In December, the council submitted a report to the governor recommending “building a lifelong education system focused on future-ready skills and competencies to thrive.”

The council strongly suggested that to reverse the state’s population loss, all Michigan residents should be able to access a post-secondary education. It recognized that higher education produces engaged citizens who contribute to communities that attract and retain future residents. 

More evidence of Michigan’s prioritization of higher education is the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential’s goal of ensuring 60% of the workforce has a certificate or college degree by 2030. The state realizes the best jobs require more than a high school diploma. The Sixty by 30 initiative is utilizing higher education to close the skills gap, increase opportunity and make our state more competitive.

Ready to make an impact

A quality college education is transformative for individuals and entire communities. Universities must do a better job of proving our worth; we must also commit to improving our model to ensure we remain worthy.

To do this, CMU’s new strategic plan includes priorities we believe will increase the value of a degree even further. The plan is centered on preparing students for success, cultivating external partnerships, enhancing our organizational culture and ensuring institutional sustainability.

We are preparing scholars and leaders who innovate and adapt in a rapidly changing world. Our goal is that every student will have an immersive experience during their undergraduate years. Internships, research, studying abroad and other hands-on learning experiences will prepare them for real-world opportunities after graduation.

We will achieve this end by cultivating relationships with businesses and organizations beyond the university to ensure a lasting impact. We will increase the number of students gaining experience with our external stakeholders — not only to enhance their education, but also to forge important connections with the communities we serve.     

CMU’s new mission statement says, “we measure our success by the success of our students and alumni.” We know that if they thrive, inspire and lead in communities throughout Michigan, the Midwestern region and beyond, there will be a tremendous rippling effect. 

The impact can be enormous for our state and its people. It is why we need to disregard false perceptions and prove the true value of a college education.

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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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