Opinion | Michigan needs more post-high school education, says state superintendent

Sheila Alles is interim Michigan State Superintendent

One of the most important things my parents did was to tell my three younger siblings and me that we were college material. Unfortunately, there are a lot of children who aren’t as lucky as we were, and many of them don’t receive the same message from their support system.

As students head back to school this year, I encourage them to put postsecondary education on the top of their mind. To succeed personally and professionally, students need to extend their education beyond high school. This includes a degree from a college or university, or a professional certification.

Providing information and access for all students to postsecondary education is woven throughout through the first goal of Michigan’s plan to become a Top 10 education state in 10 years.

In 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder declared October as “College Month,” and for the third year in a row, this October schools across the state will participate in College Month events. This includes helping high school seniors submit college applications, apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply for at least one scholarship.

Analysis from Gov. Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission reinforces the same message I was told by my parents as a child - that personal and professional success requires education beyond high school. Our state needs to prioritize postsecondary education for our children to position our state for prosperity. For Michigan to thrive and continue its comeback, the need to prioritize talent and higher education is vital.  

Having an educated workforce will entice more new businesses to come to our state, and strengthen businesses already located here. According to a report released in March by Business Leaders for Michigan, businesses in our state cite their struggle to find and retain talent as a hindrance to economic growth.

Higher education rates have improved, but we still have work to do. Michigan’s postsecondary educational attainment rate has increased for seven years in a row - from 35.7 percent of 25-to-64-year-olds possessing at least an associate degree in 2008, to 39.4 percent in 2015. Additionally, it is estimated another four percent of Michiganders have a high-quality certificate, bringing Michigan’s true postsecondary attainment rate to more than 43 percent.

According to the Lumina Foundation, the average percentage of the national workforce with a degree after high school is 46.9 percent. Despite our steady progress, Michigan still has work to do to meet and surpass the national average.

We can do better - for our students and our state.

Some students may think because they weren’t on the honor roll that they might not be college material. Some may believe their shyness or reluctance to ask for help means they weren’t meant for college. Many see the affordability of college as intimidating and aren’t sure how to navigate that process. For these students and many others, it takes just one person to make a difference. I encourage you to be that person who makes a difference in the educational journey of a student.

Learning should be a lifelong commitment. Together, we can all do our part to spark change, for our students, and for our great state.

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Fri, 09/28/2018 - 8:09am

Ms. Alles: "personal and professional success requires education beyond high school." But not necessarily college. Example: Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers. Entry level salary (GS-5) ~$29k. Top pay (GS-14, say, at Detroit Radar Approach Control) ~$89k, with in-grade increases to $116k. College requirement: none. A candidate is eligible if they have "three years of progressively responsible work experience", which most get by serving a hitch as a military controller. Meaningful, demanding, well-paying jobs exist which do not require college. People need to look past uninformed statements like Ms. Alles'; they might find the best job they could ever have (as being a controller was for me).

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 8:54pm

Your military experience is the same as post-secondary education/training. Yes, air traffic controller is a great example, but that's certainly not the norm. Quite the reverse. Many employers complain they can't find good employees - but they want the moon in terms of job preparation, experience, even post-secondary training for jobs that don't pay comparable to skill level or that pay more in other parts of the country

Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:11pm

Are you sure that it is the 'moon' and not just a good 'work ethic'? There was an article a few years about, www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2014/03/why_wont_they_hir..., titled ' Why won't they hire me? Kalamazoo area manufacturers provide 10 reasons' and I have talked to local not for profits working with hard to place individuals, both focus on 'worth ethic'.

Where and when are people learning the 'work ethic'? What is as important is a good 'work ethic' is consistent with a good 'learning' ethic.
Do you think the individual should even have to take responsibility for their learning, their knowledge and skills development?
When you spend you money, do you try to get the best value of it or are you willing to pay the same for one that has to be reset, reprogramed, reload each time you go to use it?

Brian C. Casterline
Fri, 09/28/2018 - 9:54am

The state should expand the community college system to the entire state and lower the cost. Cost savings could be achieved by providing more online learning opportunities at the junior college level. For example the second largest community college in the state, Oakland CC, still does provide a single online degree. A good model would be the SUNY, State University of New York, system. It has a single website and includes a comprehensive listing off all classes and programs from all public colleges in the state.

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 9:04pm

Agree that community colleges are an excellent way to get post-secondary education and training. All 28 offer Early College programs (students sign up their junior year of high school and attend both high school and college concurrently for three years; at the end of the program they have both a high school diploma and an associate degree). Students around the state can also dual enroll, taking one or two college courses while they are still in high school. Finally, some counties (such as Muskegon) have a Promise program where students with a 3.5 can attend two years of the local community college at no charge. The Kalamazoo Promise is similar. These are good, local models. (By the way, online degrees are not as great as some think they are. They take a LOT of self-discipline and independent study to succeed. The dropout rate is high.)

Brian C Casterline
Mon, 10/01/2018 - 10:29pm

The Early College programs are great but if you live in those areas of the state that are not near a CC then you can not take advantage of them or you can only do so at high cost. Vast parts of the state are not in a CC district. More online offerings where it is practical to do so would be better. A more robust website managed by the state cold provide more information to prospective students. For example, the website managed by the Michigan Community College Association, only includes online classes offered by the 28 colleges organized under the Michigan Community College Act of 1966. It does not include classes offered by NMU, Ferris and LSSC that offer a significant number of 100 and 200 level classes and award many associate credentials. Nor does include MSU Institute of Agricultural Technology in East Lansing and collocated with eight other CC's around the state. And it provides no information regarding the four tribal colleges that award associate degrees.

Michigan Observer
Fri, 09/28/2018 - 7:30pm

I'm afraid the well intentioned Ms. Allen is very much mistaken. Many employers, under pressure to find employees during the recent economic recovery, have discovered that many positions formerly listed as requiring a college degree, can be filled perfectly well by high school graduates. That bears out economist Brian Caplan's observation that jobs supposedly requiring a college education were formerly filled by our fathers and grandfathers who lacked a four year degree. He also points out that much of the value of a college degree lies in its value as a signaling device. It conveys that the holder had the intelligence, work ethic and the self discipline to sacrifice today for future benefits, that enabled him or her to earn a college degree. Those qualities, and not necessarily the degree, are what employers value and are looking for.

And it is not the case that someone who does poorly in high school is "college material." The record indicates that such individuals are very unlikely to earn a four year degree. For them, attending college, particularly if it entails significant debt, is a very poor investment.

Fri, 09/28/2018 - 9:32pm

Generational Comfortable Poverty is the demographic that has been growing for decades. Until that culture changes, there will be no progress on educational achievement and it is a waste of money to pursue.

Sun, 09/30/2018 - 7:58am

Hmmm a college administrator wants more kids to go to college. Whats next, the president of McDonalds thinks we should eat more burgers? Michigan has a shortage of solid workers from top to bottom in the workforce and a lack of college degrees has nothing to do with it. Michigan could do better by reducing college prep requirements and that incessant mantra to allow room for learning work skills and apprenticeships, which would hurt no one and probably help them, whether college is in their future or not.

Diane Emling
Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:02am

Michigan is in a Catch-22. We produce plenty of college graduates. They leave the state in droves due to lack of professional opportunities here. So when you look at the educational rates of those of us who are here we appear to not have enough college graduates. How to connect our stated need for educated citizens with those who are graduating and leaving?