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Opinion | Michigan needs more than recent high school grads to go to college

It turns out you can put a price on success, at least when it comes to postsecondary credentials. The payoff for individual Michiganders, employers and the state is profound.

Let’s start with this measure: 58,725. That’s the net increase of credential-holding workers available to Michigan employers if we achieve the state’s goal to increase the number of working-age adults with a skill certificate or college degree from 50.5% today to 60% by 2030.

Jeremy Hendges headshot

Jeremy Hendges is executive director of The Michigan Center for Adult College Success, which TalentFirst launched in 2023 with authorization and funding from the state of Michigan. Learn more at

Another measure: $400,000. That’s how much more in lifetime earnings the average associate degree holder can expect beyond that earned by a worker with only a high school education. With a bachelor’s degree, that jumps to $1.2 million.

The bottom line for success with the state’s Sixty by 30 goal? A net increase of $4.3 billion in accrued earnings for Michiganders by 2030. The talent needs of our businesses are met. The state’s fiscal health is improved. Most importantly, we increase the economic mobility of Michiganders so they can thrive.

But “success” is the key word here, and thus the challenge before us.

The Michigan Center for Adult College Success, an initiative of CEO alliance TalentFirst, recently published a landscape analysis, Adult Postsecondary Education in Michigan & Beyond, that lays out the opportunities and challenges to reaping the rewards of postsecondary education.

Recent high school graduates are important to Michigan's Sixty by 30 objective — but there simply aren't enough of them to produce the numbers we need. The only way we can reach that goal is by helping more adults complete a postsecondary education.

Our report lays out a roadmap to do that:

1. Identify the diverse adult learner population and the complex barriers they face.

2. Help postsecondary institutions understand the local needs of the adult learners they serve, and the credentials needed by local employers.

3. Review and evaluate best practices; share successful approaches statewide.

4. Develop customized best practices with technical support from the Michigan Center for Adult College Success.

5. Identify and procure resources, including competitive grants from the Michigan Center for Adult College Success.

6. Connect with potential adult learners through broad and targeted outreach to improve awareness of the value of a postsecondary credential and the support systems to help them succeed.

7. Leverage support networks and providers across the ecosystem, including institutions of higher education, career and technical education providers, nonprofits, state agencies, and employers.

8. Improve data quality and transparency to build and continually improve systems to support adult learners.

With the Midwest’s lowest percentage of adults having a postsecondary credential, we have our work cut out for us. But we’re ready to get started.

 As noted in an article last summer in Crain’s, “Michigan’s workforce shortage cuts across almost all sectors and all levels of skilled and unskilled jobs. But growing the skilled workforce is especially critical as the state seeks to increase the number of high-wage jobs and to retain and attract employers who pay those wages.”

This is why the state of Michigan has made significant investments in postsecondary tuition support programs. To realize the returns on those investments, though, we must improve the enrollment and retention of adult learners.

That's how we deliver on the talent needs of our employers and help more Michiganders connect with good-paying jobs that await. That’s how all of Michigan will realize the true value of success.

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