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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