Opinion | Michigan’s private colleges must play vital role boosting college attainment

Jeff Abernathy is president of Alma College.

Michigan now peers over the edge of a great precipice. Employers - many of whom already have difficulty finding the employees they need - are now facing a talent gap unlike any they’ve experienced before.

The state currently estimates a talent gap of more than 811,000 job openings through 2024 in high-demand fields like project management, IT, health care, business and other professions. Most of these jobs require a bachelor’s degree or more, yet Michigan does not currently have enough workers with this education level. This will have tremendous implications across our economy.

In this year’s State of the State message, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer responded by calling for an increase in the number of adults with a postsecondary education credential, from 44 percent today to 60 percent by 2030.

Her goal is both audacious and vitally important. Unless Michigan can rapidly boost the education level and credentials of its workforce, our state risks being left behind in the race for 21st-century jobs, income and productivity. We must invest now to safeguard against tremendously difficult times to come.

Increased investment is essential if Michigan is going to move toward and reach the governor’s goals. It’s time for Michigan to reverse the recent trend of disinvestment in education at all levels to secure a better future for our students and our state.

My higher education colleagues concur there is no time like the present. Together, we applaud the governor’s vision as she works to keep Michigan competitive—and we look for opportunities to deliver on the promise of quality learning opportunities for all, as we have for generations.

  • Michigan’s independent, nonprofit colleges and universities award more than 12,000 bachelor’s degrees each year, and that number has grown by more than 20 percent over the past decade.
  • We offer institutional grants and scholarships to 79 percent of our students, ensuring affordability and access for any Michigander interested in attaining a postsecondary credential.
  • Nearly half of all the bachelor’s degrees we award are earned by individuals 25 years and older. Moreover, Michigan veterans tend to choose independent, nonprofit colleges and universities first.

Our work is important, but it is the tip of a very large iceberg. If Michigan is to keep pace with the demands of a global knowledge economy, we have a lot of work to do to help an even larger number of students access quality higher education programs. That requires investment to help ensure everyone who seeks to improve their skills or obtain a college credential is able to do so.

It’s also important to focus upon what happens to degreed individuals after graduation - the other key component of Gov. Whitmer’s talent goal. Michigan can ill afford to educate a student, only to have that student leave the state for a better job elsewhere.

According to the Brookings Institution, Michigan is a national leader in keeping its graduates in-state after they earn their degrees. Our state’s independent, nonprofit institutions contribute heavily to that outcome, as better than 65 percent of our alumni stay here after graduation with countless more returning to Michigan after working or attending graduate school out of state.

Approximately one in five degreed Michigan residents earned their credential from an independent college or university. Our schools are eager to contribute all we can to attracting and retaining skilled, educated talent and look forward to collaborating with Gov. Whitmer as we do so.

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Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/16/2019 - 7:20am

"Increased investment is essential if Michigan is going to move toward and reach the governor’s goals. It’s time for Michigan to reverse the recent trend of disinvestment in education at all levels to secure a better future for our students and our state. "

This is almost as ludicrous as the exchange last week between Rep. Waters and bank CEO's.


The problem here is OBVIOUSLY not with the lack of "investment" as the $1.5-Trillion (and growing) in student debt clearly demonstrates.

With a constant influx of easy money to pay for schooling thanks to Pres. B.O., colleges have not had ANY incentive to control their costs and as a result literally priced themselves out of the market.

If Pres. Abernathy is so concerned with the problem, then he should address the root cause with his higher education colleagues.

middle of the mit
Tue, 04/16/2019 - 11:46pm

""Increased investment is essential if Michigan is going to move toward and reach the governor’s goals. It’s time for Michigan to reverse the recent trend of disinvestment in education at all levels to secure a better future for our students and our state. "

This is almost as ludicrous as the exchange last week between Rep. Waters and bank CEO's.


Let me guess.

MI needs no further education funding. Am I right?

Yet, MI, after 8 years of republicon rule, has done what? Made our school system something to laugh about?

I read blog after blog about people in their 60's and 70's telling me that their schooling was paid for by the States.
Yet........somehow we can not to that for their children and grandchildren?


That is what conservatives are saying.

Do NOT believe me!

Look it up for yourselves!

If I was to do it for you, the cons would tell me or you that I am lost.

I would tell them, Acts chapter 4 verse 44.

Then they will tell me.................you are unamerican!

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 9:21am

I’m tired of hearing about numbers like “79%” of our students receive grants or aid. Please check the price of that education, subtract that grant or aid these colleges so proudly award and see what today’s young people are left with for a bill. Most times it still exceeds what is affordable and causes them to go into debt to the tune of $100K. Michigan small colleges now cost over $50K a year and the brag about giving out $10K in aid to a kid. How many of us have a spare $40K laying around. Most young people will now be in debt for school into their 40’s. So when a President from one of these fine institutions gets a platform and complains about all the problems, we’ll Sir or Ma’am, try looking in the mirror.

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 11:31am

I think part of the problem may be what employers are offering as wages and benefits, or lack thereof, for those college degrees.

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 1:13pm

Yes, and when I hear about these so called "business leaders of Michigan" harping about how important education and opportunity is and then they turn around and offer college grads jobs at a much lower level of pay than they can get by going outside of Michigan it is all so much hypocrisy.

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 7:07pm

It all depends on what the degree is in? Can the employers see a direct benefit to them from the education the graduate received?

Roger A DeShetler
Tue, 04/16/2019 - 11:43am

We need to remember that whatever the “Social Studies Subjects” turn out to be, they usually involve alternative views on topics, be it in History, Government, Economics, Sociology, Psychology and so on. Alternative views deserve a place in “Social Studies Subjects”. Keep up the great work Bridge.

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 9:37pm

It is interesting in what subjects you omitted from your list, mathematics, chemistry, physics, even biology.
Is the difference in what the politician can manipulate and the subjects that have become soft and squishy? Is the difference in the subjects that are marketable upon graduation and the ones that the skills are so soft that the employers don't see sufficient value in them to pay more, is the difference that 'alternative views' so undermine the credibility of the subjects that only graduate level degrees have applicable knowledge include in their courses?

Ken Mitton. Ass...
Tue, 04/16/2019 - 12:37pm

I agree we are falling behind training the generations who we expect to take care of our beautiful State and even us in our older years. However, compared to the 1980s when 70% of the education cost per student was given to our public universities by the State Government, less than 16% of the student's education cost is transfered to my University in 2018/19. The author, myself and many readers are old enough to recall when we could collect our next year tuition after two months of full time hourly wage work in the summer. $1,200 in 1980. But as voters, we have let our legislature shift the education cost almost fully to students as their tuition. Education cost has increased only per the accumulated US inflation rate since the 80s. The support of the current generation has not, all to cut cut our taxes. Well the people cutting those taxes mostly got through college before the slashing began.

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 7:42am

Private colleges have inflated their tuition every bit as much as State U's. Can't whine about state funding cuts. What exactly is their excuse?

Thu, 04/18/2019 - 9:44pm

Just like all the others we hear from about education, they simply want more of other people's money. For all the money that is put into the 'educational' institutions I wonder what the return is to the individual student, I wonder how much these people clamoring for more money invest in helping the student select their degree and helping them understand the nature of the work they can expect to do with that degree and the income they are likely to earn.
Nothing in the article is about the students, what their role/responsibilities are in competing the degree work or certification work, it is all about the money for the schools and not about the value to the student.

Sun, 04/21/2019 - 5:13am

Does the president of this private college expect some form of taxpayer monies be given to his college? That is ludicrous! Private colleges are just that, private. The government should not get into their financial affairs. And if they fail, so what. It is just like any other business that fails.

On another subject, I often wonder why parents are never mentioned as a source of money for students? I remember when my kids were very young that I bought original issue discount bonds at a very low price and set them aside to finance their college. OID’s are similar to savings bonds in that you pay a small percentage of their face value, no interest is paid out during the term of the bond, and at the end of the period you get returned the face value of the bond. The imputed interest rate is higher and more market based than a savings bond though. Of course we all have to make decisions, save to pay for something ourselves, or spend on ourselves now and hope that someone else will pay in the future.