The road to accessible higher education

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For Michigan’s workers to remain recession-proof, it’s essential for residents to pursue some learning beyond high school. Courtesy Business Leaders for Michigan

The world is changing faster than ever. Rapid technological advancement has propelled all of us to new economic realities, one of which is that a high school diploma is simply not enough for Michigan workers to get ahead and stay ahead.

The simple truth is that automation is dramatically changing the workplace. According to the Lumina Foundation, within the next two years, automation is going to create 58 million more skilled jobs than it eliminates. Those jobs are going to require a different set of aptitudes and abilities than many Michiganders currently have.

That’s not to say that everyone needs a four-year bachelor’s degree. In fact, there are many certificates, licenses and other credentials that can help boost incomes and employability; the key is to ensure they are accessible and affordable to everyone in our state.

There’s also no time to delay. If, as some people predict, Michigan is looking at an imminent economic downturn, higher education is a key safeguard for many workers and their families. Here’s why: Of the 11.6 million jobs created after the Great Recession, a whopping 99% — 11.5 million jobs — went to workers with at least some college education. For our state’s workers to remain recession-proof, it’s essential for residents to pursue some learning beyond high school.

This means Michigan has a good deal of work to do. Business Leaders for Michigan has recommended clear, effective strategies for boosting higher education outcomes through its statewide action agenda, the Michigan’s Road to Top Ten plan.

Through the plan, we recommend strategies to reduce the costs associated with postsecondary education and develop strong career pathways that help individuals pursue their ambitions. Further, we encourage better collaboration between employers and institutions so we can foster a dynamic, nimble postsecondary marketplace.

Indeed, this employer engagement is one of the most critical elements associated with moving more Michiganders to continue education. According to a recent Strada-Gallup survey, employers are a make-or-break factor in many students’ decisions to pursue or abandon their progress toward postsecondary certification. Not only does “difficulty balancing school and work” often force people out of degree programs, but importantly — and conversely — employers also are identified as the strongest reason why people may later decide to enroll in postsecondary courses.

Michigan can do better when it comes to employer engagement, but we can also support higher education affordability by boosting state support for public colleges and universities. Over the past dozen years, real spending per Michigan student has only risen by 2.3%. We currently rank 43rd in the U.S. for higher education spending.

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that our state ranks 29th in educational attainment and 32nd in per capita personal income. If we truly want to improve our state’s economic results, we must work expeditiously to foster a higher education landscape that is widely supported — both financially and practically — by the state’s economic and policy leaders.

To help make this ideal a reality, it will take all of us. It’s time for everyone to get behind  Michigan’s Road to Top Ten plan, available at businessleadersformichigan.com, and strengthen Michigan’s postsecondary landscape.

The time is right. The answers are clear. Let’s get on the road to stronger higher education — together.

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