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.