Michigan citizens have long valued education as the path to economic opportunity and a better life. The State is home to the one of the first great public land grant universities (MSU) an innovation that, as it spread, put higher education within reach of working families and fueled the rise of Michigan agriculture, commerce and industry. Some of the nation’s first and largest community colleges were built in Michigan, and trained workers for the technical demands of Michigan’s growing industry. The first free public high school was organized in Kalamazoo in 1874; and the idea of the community school, the school as the “lighthouse” and the center of the community life was born as the community education movement in Flint.
Alongside our Great Lakes and outdoors, Michigan’s people take the greatest pride in our colleges, universities and education system. But for many years the blessings of the auto and industrial economy – where one could earn a good living without a postsecondary education degree—created an environment where higher education was desirable but not essential.
All that has changed in recent years. Michigan’s people newly understand that if we want a good economy, if we are going to be a state of opportunity that provides good jobs and good wages once again – we must refire the engine of postsecondary education and enhanced opportunity for all our people.
Today, for Michigan’s people to thrive economically and for our State to be competitive, many more of our citizens need post-high school degrees and other valuable credentials that equip them with the tools and skills not only to get a job, but to navigate a fast-changing economy and become the entrepreneurs and job creators of tomorrow.
In the Michigan economy of 2015, a high school diploma is no longer the ticket to a good job, but there are jobs available for IT specialists, engineers, nurses, programmers, technicians, scientists, welders, and skilled tradesmen and women. Michigan has to prepare more of its citizens, young and old, for these opportunities—both to meet the needs of employers who have good jobs available in Michigan today and to be the job creators of tomorrow.
The states with the highest degree and certificate attainment also have the highest incomes. Today, Michigan ranks 38th in the nation in personal income, $5,000 below the national average, and has seen real incomes fall over the last dozen years in all regions of the state.
Any strategy for improving Michigan’s economy by increasing postsecondary education attainment must take into account the changing demographics of Michigan’s population. As seen in Exhibits 1a and 1b, Michigan’s population is aging with seniors and older workers representing the largest and fastest growing population.