Opinion | Talent should be the top priority for Michigan’s new leaders

Daniel Hurley is CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities

The world of work has changed over the last 20 years. It’s vital that Michigan change with it.

That means putting a priority on investing in education that can provide the skills needed to attract and fill good paying jobs.

The $25-an-hour factory job is no longer the driver of a successful economy, as it was for years in Michigan. And those jobs are not coming back as automation and globalization continue to transform our workplaces and economy. Today, successful economies are driven by knowledge industries, the kind that locate and grow in communities with an ample supply of college graduates.  

It’s time for Michigan to accept and embrace this future; otherwise, we risk continuing to fall behind other states in the competition for good-paying jobs that can pay for a family’s home, an education for their children, and offer a decent retirement. That means rethinking some basic state policy and investment priorities.

Michigan in 2000 was a top 20 state in per capita income in a factory-driven industrial economy. Today, it has fallen to 30th, as factory wages and the number of factory jobs have declined. Our median household income growth over the last four years was 12.6 percent - well behind the national average of 15.5 percent. While Michigan’s unemployment rate is low in contrast to 2010, it remains comparatively high nationally, ranking 30th.

Why? The reason is pretty straightforward: We rank low for residents who hold a college degree.

One need only look at companies such as Google and Amazon, or growing industries like health care, information technology, engineering and business services to realize that they are built on talent.

Amazon bypassed Michigan in its search for its second headquarters, with its $100,000-a-year jobs, because our state didn’t have a deep enough talent pool due to a lack of college graduates. Instead, the company has received tax breaks to build warehouses here, creating $15-an-hour jobs. That same pattern - the state investing in low paying jobs, and then being unable to invest in advanced education - has been repeated time and time again for the last 20 years.

Since 2002, Michigan’s financial support per public university student has dropped from $9,511 (in current dollars) to $5,546. We fund our state universities at half the national average. We simply are not investing adequately in talent.

Fortunately, there is growing support with a new administration and Legislature to reset our state’s support for postsecondary education, to create more four-year college degree, associate degree and certificate-holding workers for Michigan. As the members of the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (MIHEART) shared in our recently released report “Total Talent,” we believe that talent-building must be the priority.

Research by the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce says by 2020 we will need 176,000 more college grads to fill Michigan job openings, along with 126,000 workers with a two-year degree or certificate. A state government analysis of the “Hot 50” high-demand, high-wage occupations in Michigan through 2026 indicate that 36 of them will require at least a four-year degree.

While the data clearly show we need a lot more college grads, not everyone needs to earn a four-year college degree. But it’s important to recognize that those skilled workers who do not have a degree - plumbers, auto mechanics and others - command higher earnings when they work in communities with a lot of college graduates, who can better afford to pay for their services.

We need leadership from our new governor and legislature to invest more in postsecondary education if our state is to return to prosperity for all.

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Tue, 01/22/2019 - 8:02am

Since you mentioned them, what percentage of Google or Amazon's employees grew up and attended college in Washington or CA? (I'll answer for you! Very low!) How could this be?
What percentage of Mi college graduates leave the state after graduation? Before we throw more money at your solutions please answer this.

Tue, 01/22/2019 - 8:28am

Mr. Hurley's sentiment is a nice one, but unrealistic. For years, Republicans in the legislature have undercut education programs and resources, teachers, and school maintenance. They've done it because they think an educated public will support a political agenda contrary to their own. And Michigan voters have maintained Republican majorities in the legislature. The conclusion: most Michigan voters don't give a high priority to educating their kids.

Tue, 01/22/2019 - 12:53pm

Funding state universities is not the whole solution: Data from Education Trust Midwest and Business Leaders for Michigan shows Michigan ranks 46th in 4th grade reading, 37th in 8th grade math, and 29th in career and college readiness. Michigan is one of only five states that show negative improvement in early reading since 2003. In 2015, NAEP ranked Michigan in the bottom 2 quintiles in nearly all categories. Solutions need to start with literacy in elementary schools!

Thomas Graham
Tue, 01/22/2019 - 1:03pm

If Mr. Hurley were correct, then the Detroit school system would be churning out HS graduates who immediately go to college for the simple fact that Michigan spends SO MUCH MONEY there. There are social problems that need to be fixed before institutional problems can improve anything and simply ignoring those social problems exacerbates them. Mr. Hurley is living in a dream world of unicorns and leprechauns. It is not up to the government to create social structures, the local society must do that on their own.....or not and the government must simply cope with the societies decisions.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 01/22/2019 - 6:44pm

"Since 2002, Michigan’s financial support per public university student has dropped from $9,511 (in current dollars) to $5,546. We fund our state universities at half the national average. We simply are not investing adequately in talent."

Michigan Public Universities are doing pretty well all things considered.

The value of MSU's endowment fund is nearly $3-billion dollars.


U of M endowment fund is almost $12-billion.


Both have been rising for some time now.

Shall I continue?

How can anyone honestly say with a straight face that they are really hurting for money?

Oh, that's right?



marcia curran
Tue, 01/22/2019 - 9:44pm

I hope that those who are working on updating Michigan's workers skills know that there are tens of thousands of cyber security jobs going begging in the United States. There are simply not enough trained IT personnel to even fill those positions. I hope that that kind of skill training is on your radar.

Wed, 01/23/2019 - 2:18pm

Mr. Hurley, talent will show up if companies would flash the cash (and benefits). The companies I know want education, experience and talent but don't want to pay for it. We all want something for nothing.

Kevin LaPage
Fri, 01/25/2019 - 11:13am

Greenlee is a lying bum. The national highway safety commission did a study a few years back with sober drivers, drivers that had consumed alcohol, and divers that had consumed. cannabis. It was stated that an unforeseen conclusion to their study was that those drivers with cannabis in their system had lower accident responsibility rates than did the alcohol and the sober control group. So kick rocks ya lying bastard.

Sat, 01/26/2019 - 7:06pm

Daniel Hurley is wrong, the $25/hr and higher paying manufacturing jobs are available now and will be in the future if the individuals have the knowledge and skills that deliver the expectations of the employers. Daniel Hurley is using a 70 year old model of employment and work. He is using the old top down employment structure. He needs to use today’s model, the employment structure of distributed responsibility with authority, and he needs to factor in the future employment structure of distributed entrepreneurship. College/Universities need to become integrated into the changing employment expectations/culture; they need to be part of the employer development process that establishes the future employment expectations so their graduates prepare to be critical in meeting the expectations.
Daniel Hurley is wrong, simply having a college degree does not assure individual success, all degrees are not equal, not all will meet employers’ needs, Michigan colleges/universities need to be culling their programs and creating more opportunities by insinuating undergraduates into employers’ work so they can be productive at graduation.
The schools need to change and obsolete current practices so the quality of graduates in the next five years graduates will begin have more than the basic knowledge of their degree and be providing what current graduates take five or ten years to deliver, independent, continually learning, being an owner.

Tue, 01/29/2019 - 7:57am

Right! I know not everyone wants to go into engineering, but Kettering has it right; school three months, work three months all the way through school. At the end, the company might offer a position but if not, that person is well trained WITH EXPERIENCE. There are so many kids who get degrees but have no experience and companies don't want that. How to get experience? Intern, of course, and THAT is what college's should be concentrating on along with teaching the needed skills.

Jo Keen
Wed, 01/30/2019 - 3:34am

Too simple. Throwing more degreed graduates out there is not the answer - not to hit anywhere near the bullseye anyway. Even fantastic natural talent must be nutured and developed to expose its potential.

After taking 20 years of my life, time and resources in Michigan’s educational systems and then completing a 29 year career in her job market thru good times and bad, its obvious you haven’t done enough homework on this issue.

Just common sense: if you have two doctorate degrees in, say, cake baking and cake decorating, but all the bakeries are only making bread, those two degrees - even from the best schools in Michigan, are not helping the student or the business - with no blame to either.

The Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes a large amount of information on employment and wages by occupation, including career information, employment levels and projections, and various types of earnings data.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook takes a peek at what America’s future job market may look like. The data can even be broken down just for Michigan (as Alaska and Ohio have done already) or desired future location.. The Handbook is distributed to every public library - or was - and is free (as already paid for by our taxes).
An excellent reference designed to give information for decision-making in future planning was perfect study material for a 20 year old community college honors graduate with a 2 yr. Associate Degree and no job opportunities. I used what I had been taught: how to use the library to study and do research. A helpful librarian suggested I might find the Handbook useful in planning my next move to get a job.

I needed a plan to enable me to house, feed and dress myself - and keep a car running while saving every penny possible to pay for tuition and books in a 4 yr.
program to get that Holy Grail to success and happiness (I was taught) of a college degree.

It included finding an employer who, with a co-operative education program (work/study, alternating semesters of full time paid on-the-job training financing full-time education), would resolve my biggest challenge: working and going to school full-time (16 credit hours per semester) with seasonal part-time jobs and an on-campus 20 hr per week job as my financial aid. Heck, I was young and strong and naive - and determined.

What would I change looking back from retirement and having achieved the “success” I sought - a graduate degree and a healthy 401k?

My suggestions to our opinion author and other decision-makers in his position/role:

Seek the cures for what ails the Body Academic. That’s your element, not mine.

1. Build a national network for a “commission report” of input from academic, parent, student and all contributors into the Financial Aid system, private and public. Listen; take notes.

Once the current issues are identified, understood and agreed upon, we’ll have the diagnosis.

Next comes the treatment plan.

Compare America’s practices with the best practices in the world to prioritize the necessary changes in enough detail to determine which of these would have the greatest positive change in the shortest period of time at the least additional cost. (Include the costs we’re already paying for not addressing the issues - and continuing to deteriorate.)

Lastly, make recommendations as to who, what, when, where and how implementation of the “treatment plan” will begin and on what timetable at whose expense.
2. It makes me wince to consider the Pandora’s box of questioning, much less consider making changes to the centuries of tradition behind today’s academic practices.

The child may be terribly ill, but that just makes the parent hover over with even more anxiety, clutching the possibly dying child to the parental bosom while the family keeps somber vigil in the next room. My mind is boggled by the thought!

Maybe something simple with the recommended change being sought to come in at a less threatening angle.

3. Incoming Freshman are tomorrow’s degree earning graduates if they successfully jump through the required hoops to get that hallowed and framable piece of paper.

Nope. Investigating those hoops is still too threatening for me and my limitations. Not my element. Leaving that rat’s nest on your desk. Simpler still.

4. Freshmen are pretty non-threatening (think of “hazing”).

If new students were immediately taught relevant research resources and how to access them as required curriculum for the first year, it would not only prepare them to do the research required for the hoops of their future field of study, but would prepare American citizens to determine the truth or falseness of opinions portrayed as facts. The current state of this democracy’s public media systems highlight the importance of this skill. Two pluses for one skill set - with lifetime applicability!

I was doing graduate work when introduced to eLibrary resources (1985) and the boolean algebraic structure of the electronic query - how to ask the computer a question - and get an answer that is helpful to your research study.

It was two years before I realized that blindly going after a degree, no matter how skillful I was at hoop-jumping, would not pay the rent or two more years of tuition. I needed a plan.

There’s two chunks of introductory-level content that could easily fill a 3-4 credit hour course for the Freshman curriculum.
- learning to use the tools and skills to access information and determining which information sources may best yield useful answers to establish the purpose for the plan.
- introduction to process, criteria and strategies that define the info needs for creating a plan, including sequence and timing plan to reach stated goals/direction)

- critical thinking, like identifying propaganda and marketing techniques that influence the unsuspecting to make decisions that may not be in their own best interest. This would generate enough content in curriculum design for at least another course.

If we want to be really serious at teaching students to think for themselves and become truth-lovers, we’d require a course of historical analysis using actual examples from human history where lies, taken as truth, resulted in terrible consequences for some part of humanity; like Germans and Jews under Hitler.

I would review each degree-granting “school” in the university to determine which needed further specific content of research methods and evaluation of the quality of existing research to gain more advanced or greater depth of additional independent research skills so every graduating citizen would be totally capable of “rational thought” and discerning the known facts of any matter effectively and efficiently. The graduate will have been taught how to plan, what to consider, how to identify and access resources to find the answers he’s looking for.

By Junior year, its time to require that every Student graduating Michigan schools has had experience in making value judgements and investigating preliminary directions for themselves by evaluating career directions and life-style choices. As a structured, disciplined process is learned for initiating self-discovery contributing to greater self-knowledge (which will continue to deepen and change throughout life), it will strengthen, again, each individuals’ ability to make more satisfying choices regarding his priorities as they affect his decisions for his current and future growth towards goals he will set and plan to achieve because he was required to learn how one goes about it.

The Handbook of Occupational Outlook is just one tool that I found indispensable and the single most useful in determining my eventual outcomes.

The high school and college counselling function, in my experience, was not of any assistance so may as well be limited sharply.
- In high school, to confronting the disciplinary issues and attitude adjustments required to make it through the system until graduation
- In college, “counselling” was only ever the entry point for referral to requested academic and/or campus and/or community social services. Even my academic advisors had no accountability for their purpose for which no expectations were ever shared with me. I liked them as teachers and befriended them when obtaining a required signature of my “academic advisor”.

While identifying or gaining new self-knowledge, such as prioritizing values, might be an expected result of counselling, I’ve never heard of anyone having that experience in academia. Personal or work-related prioritizing, goal setting with relevant planning was never taught as a skill or process or even in simply sharing information on how to go about such tasks until after 10 years of figuring it out as I went.

In my sixth year of college, I was taught how to draw a flow chart as it might be used in breaking down a sequence of steps to support designing software.

Just common sense, as I mentioned before. Ask the right questions - what jobs are forecasted to need college grads? How many? What skills or knowledge will they need for entry level employment?
Partnerships between educational institutions and employers’ reps from an internal strategic planning role.

Then, teach students what they need to know to be successful in identifying and planning to enable meeting their chosen life goals.

Only in five classes in 6 years of college can I remember receiving content that I actually needed and used in 29 years.

The on-the-job work study program with the resulting piece of paper (a bachelor degree) are what got me into 23 years of my career path. The degree was only a symbol of the money spent, time invested, maturity and, social class/status achieved as “educated”. It was only a key to open the door.

The graduate still had to walk through that door and perform with social acceptability. An honors GPA was secondary to the reputation of the school name. After the first critical year or so, it no longer mattered except to alumni. It was relationships and performance, in pretty much equal measure in my employer’s culture.

We dont just need more graduates. We need properly prepared, “educated” graduates who can work easily and well with any “others” who can walk through the door and hit the ground running, confident enough in their self-knowledge, in their skills and abilities, to cope with anything thrown at them.

At least, that’s the conclusions drawn from my experience.