Sink or swim: Higher education is key to Michigan’s future

It’s the kind of study that conjures visions of a Michigan flush with opportunity one day soon. And, if its findings are accurate, it’s a study that warns that doing nothing could ensure Michigan’s decline as a place to live and work.

Michigan needs an additional 779,000 students to earn an education or training credential beyond high school by 2025 to meet the needs of employers and place Michigan among nation’s 10 best educated states, according to a report issued by a coalition of business, education, labor and government leaders.

The price of this investment: more than $500 million a year.

To achieve that education goal, the study, “Reaching for Opportunity: An action plan to increase Michigan’s postsecondary credential attainment,” argues that Michigan needs to raise the number of residents with college degrees or technical certificates from 46 percent today to 60 percent in 10 years.

Scour through the 64-page report ‒ produced with input from the state’s colleges, universities, business, labor and philanthropic leaders ‒ and what emerges is a stark vision of Michigan’s low educational attainment and job prospects for the future compared with other states. Michigan currently ranks 38th in the nation in personal income and has seen real income fall over the past decade, the report says.

“This is about the most important agenda for Michigan’s economy and people,” said John Austin, president of the State Board of Education and facilitator of the Michigan Postsecondary Credential Attainment Workgroup, which produced the report. “We have to do this or we’re going to be a less prosperous state with diminished opportunity for people.”

More than decade after the release of a similar report by the state-appointed Cherry Commission, a bipartisan group seeking to promote postsecondary credentials along with the state economy, the workgroup was formed in 2014 to build on that work.

Among the groups collaborating on the report are Business Leaders for Michigan, the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan, the Michigan Department of Education and the governor’s office, Talent 2025, the Kresge and W.K. Kellogg foundations and the Michigan College Access Network. A full of members is on the right.

The findings of the workgroup study, released this month, also mirror many of the sentiments and priorities of more than 5,000 Michiganders surveyed this year by the nonpartisan Center for Michigan, Bridge’s parent organization. In the center’s report, “Getting to Work," residents stressed the need for more state investment in higher education and workforce training initiatives, improved counseling services offered to college-bound students, and better alignment between postsecondary education and training opportunities and the needs of Michigan employers.

The workgroup “Reaching for Opportunity” report recommends that government, the public schools, colleges and businesses work together to:

  • Create a marketing campaign and a one-stop web portal that provides postsecondary education guidance to students.
  • Raise the number of high school counselors and college advisers, and their training.
  • Triple the number of students in effective early college and career technical education credit-earning programs.
  • Increase and simplify need-based financial aid from the state, and the packaging of existing workforce resources for working adults.
  • Streamline the process for transferring credits from community colleges to four-year universities
  • Find ways to increase graduation rates for vulnerable students

To get to 60 percent of state residents with postsecondary credentials by 2025, 439,000 more students than currently projected will need to earn technical certificates and industry-recognized certifications, 64,000 more will need to earn associate degrees, 232,000 more will need to get bachelor’s degrees and 45,000 more graduate will need to get degrees by 2025, the report states.
Currently, several efforts ‒ some disconnected ‒ are underway to encourage more students to seek a degree or credential after high school. For example, Michigan community colleges and universities have adopted the Michigan Transfer agreement to help students earn the credits they need to transfer from two- to four-year degree programs.

A better-educated population will come at a higher cost to the state budget.

The report recommends that the state spend nearly five times as much on need-based financial aid than it currently does annually, from $105 million to $480 million a year. The $480 million could provide a minimum, need-based award to students at any Michigan public or independent college, university or community college, the report recommends.

Today, Michigan ranks 41st in the nation in the amount it provides for financial aid, and has the sixth highest tuition rate. Student debt in Michigan has increased by 48 percent in the last four years, making Michigan’s average student loan debt the 7th highest in the nation. Despite the debt, Michigan is below national averages for post-secondary degree and certificate attainment.

Getting the state to spend $480 million a year on financial aid ‒ in addition to the report’s recommendations to increase funding to public higher education institutions annually ‒ could be a politically difficult task, especially with the legislature still figuring out how to fund $600 million in roads fixes.

The report suggests increasing the recommended investments “over time.”

“Increasing education and training beyond high school is vital to grow our economy,” Tim Sowton, vice president, government affairs and public policy with Business Leaders for Michigan, a workgroup member, said in a statement. “Our members are concerned about a shortage of trained talent at all levels in our state. This report lays out an important roadmap toward increasing that talent pool.”

Overall, the report seeks to recommend ways Michigan can get more efficiencies out of its current public schools, higher education and workforce development investments while suggesting new investments that will catapult Michigan to the top.

“We have to be more efficient and effective to save the taxpayer and the individual’s dollar while making the strategic investments that pay the highest dividends in credential attainment,” Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, a workgroup member and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s higher education subcommittee, said in a statement.

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Thu, 12/10/2015 - 2:34pm
It seems whether it is Mr. Austin or the different groups working on the issue of post secondary education the driving issue seems to be a desire for a top down grand solution based in added spending. I wonder when they realize that that has been the same approach applied for decades, and we are still trying to solve the same problem. Albert Einstein; Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I wonder when these successful people will pause and consider to look at the problem differently [from a bottoms up prespective, student], look for the root causes [those that are basic issues that every student has to address], and look to those who have succeeded for the whys and hows for success. If it were money, standarization, any other contributing factor that can be controlled at the State or district level then we wouldn't have the disparity of learning in the same classrooms. Since we have students with learning success and failure from every ethinic, econcomic, social, and other state recognized groups, maybe it is time to have a structured conversation with the students. As for the prosperity of the state, the reality is, just as current Michigan college graduates and other certified skilled people are mobile [moving to where the opportunities are], so can similar knowledge and skilled people be mobile enough to move to Michigan if/when the opportunities are here. Where Mr. Austin and those groups seem to feel the problem is the numbers of graduates, I see the problem as the lack of student learning [if you don't learn how will you graduate]. With such a difference in seeing the problem can significantly change how we look for a solution.
Chuck Fellows
Fri, 12/11/2015 - 6:50pm
Thank you for supporting the voice of the student and pointing out that our history of education reform has been a top down failure.
Thu, 12/10/2015 - 4:13pm
This may be overly simplistic but if Michigan does not have people with these degrees and skills why don't Michigan companies just hire more people from out of state that do have the skills or is this a nationwide problem?
Sun, 12/13/2015 - 1:37am
"Sink or swim: Higher education is key to Michigan’s future." If it is in Michigan why not in Detroit. If it is in Detroit why was art given away? ...
Sun, 12/13/2015 - 12:02pm
Three years ago, a small group of concerned people in Marquette & Alger Counties formed a committee to help students make the best possible career decisions. We believe all kids learn differently, the pressure is on them to attend a 4-year school, and college is too expensive. We have helped create: 1. "Geometry in Construction" program where kids learn Geometry, Construction Skills, and Teamwork 2. M-A Technical Middle College (up to 2 years of college credits at NMU at no cost to the students) 3. Facebook & Linkedin pages to promote CTE and the Skilled Trades. We are having an impact.
Sun, 12/13/2015 - 12:23pm
How are we doing with the graduates and investment we are already making in post-secondary ed? Are we getting the job candidates, skills and abilities demanded by our state's employers? How are we doing retaining the high demand degrees/ skills youth we are already generating with our current investment? Are we doing enough to expose and encourage skilled trades to youth (and their parents) before they fall into the bachelor degree push? Is the constant drum beat of college prep and dumbing down what gets you a degree(both High school and Bachelor’s), getting us where we need to be? I'd like to more follow up to answer these questions.
Sun, 12/13/2015 - 4:50pm
Before we taxpayers spend even more money to fund education at any level, we need to look very critically at our existing K-12 school system and figure out why so few of the students graduating from Michigan's high schools are interested in and well-prepared for post-secondary education. Michigan K-12 spending (and teacher compensation) is in the top 10% of US states, but we are seeing student academic performance in the bottom 25% and falling. John Austin and the other educators quoted here are disingenuous in their constant claims that a lack of state financial support for education is the major cause of this problem. A nearly-free method of improving academic performance of most students is to break the age-grade lock step and also to end "social promotion" from one grade to the next. We need to stop moving students to the next level if they have not yet mastered the demands of their current one. Kids learn best when taught at or very near their "challenge level". Grouping across several ages for all academic instruction, and by weight/size skill for PE would go a long, long way towards achieving what teachers call "differentiated instruction" without demanding that every teacher develop 5 or 6 different lessons for every topic of every subject they teach. Students should be grouped by like ability for instruction, as is often done with reading groups within a single class, but groups could be formed across all the students served by a given school, and with different group assignments for each subject. That way a kid with ASD who struggles with reading comprehension, especially in fiction, doesn't have to be held back in science or mathematics where he or she might be ahead of average.With mixed ability levels and degrees of prior mastery, teachers are forced to aim their activities and reading a bit below the middle of the class. This bores and alienates the kids who are ready for more challenge, while still going over the head of the kids who are furthest behind. Another method that doesn't require spending more than we already do is to make our early elementary education more developmentally appropriate. At best, about half of our students are capable of enough abstraction and generalization to be ready to start learning to read at age 5, as is now expected of kindergartners, even if some exceptional students are already reading independently at age 4. Nor are most of the current curriculum expectations in kindergarten through grade 5 developmentally appropriate for typical kids. It appears that someone (on Michigan's School Board or the MEAP / M-STEP developers?) took fairly high-performing third graders and projected linearly backward to pre-school, with no attention paid to neurological or physiological developmental milestones. This system causes many, many students, especially boys, to believe they're "dumb" and bad at learning merely because we've asked more of them than their brains are ready for at that young an age.
Sun, 12/13/2015 - 7:27pm
The political leadership of this State for the past 20+ years has waged a war on education. Little to no support for higher education when compared to our Midwest neighbors and the political shell game of "the (un) promise scholarship" our two MTU grads will leave the state immediately after receiving their degrees for better job opportunities elsewhere. As a graduate of a Michigan Public University 30 years ago I do not blame them. Don't ask Gov. Geek if this is on his radar; no leadership from the political ruling party of this state more interested in curtailing voting access and the sex lives of their colleagues and their constituents!!
Mon, 12/14/2015 - 1:19am
Are they leaving because of a poor education in Michigan [MTU] or a lack of Michigan employers interested in hiring them?
Mon, 12/14/2015 - 7:23am
I have heard through various sources that a big problem in Michigan is the unwillingness of many Michigan employers to pay a competitive wage in comparison to other states and that is a major reason that many potential employees are leaving the state.
Mon, 12/14/2015 - 9:56am
I would go where the better jobs [pay, benefits, work, etc.] are. It is back to what the marketplace decides. It is what the employee will accept and they feel they need to provide for their families. We follow that path, our daughters have followed that path, all having left the state and returned, one has left and returned and left and returned, left and would like to return. They like the quality of college education they recieved here and would like their children to go to those schools, but they also know that the kids can get that quality elsewhere with the help a well paid job can provide.
Kieran Mathieson
Tue, 12/15/2015 - 11:46am
Diplomas aren't important per se. They're a surrogate for skills. Unfortunately, higher ed isn't as good at teaching as it should be. Profs aren't trained in teaching. Most are rewarded for publishing; teaching is a distraction from their "real" job. Few profs take a disciplined approach to teaching. They don't read learning research, design courses appropriately, or measure effectively. The vast majority of profs are amateur teachers, not professionals. (This doesn't imply that profs are slackers. Judged by their actions, universities don't care whether profs teach well.) The bottom line: Michigan families are going into debt to pay for poor service. The stakes are too high to let this continue. There are no easy answers. Still, we should at least be talking about the issue at the state level. By the way, I've been a prof for almost 30 years. The teaching situation hasn't changed in that time, but the price of education surely has.
Thu, 12/17/2015 - 1:05pm
if Michigan needed more college grads they would stop giving full scholarships to students from out of the state but that's not going to happen. the colleges do not exist to serve the taxpayers of Michigan or their interest. the colleges have their own separate agendas and could care less what happens here until the funding by the citizens runs out.