Economic Development and Government

Michigan reaches for 60 percent postsecondary attainment

Reaching for Opportunity aims to prepare more residents for higher education.

December 11, 2015
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Bipartisan legislators, business representatives and higher education leaders have released Reaching for Opportunity: An Action Plan to Increase Michigan’s Credential Attainment. The report outlines challenges and recommendations to reach the goal of having 60 percent of the state’s population achieve a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025.

The report indicates its goal is both “ambitious and attainable,” “aligns with the needs of tomorrow’s labor market,” and ensures the state and its residents are economically competitive with the top performing states in terms of prosperity.

Kevin Stotts, president at Talent 2025 and a member of the Michigan Postsecondary Credential Attainment Project Workgroup, said this report and others at the national level point out Michigan must have a better-educated workforce for the state to be economically competitive.

“If you look at the projections going out to 2025, the jobs of tomorrow are going to require more technical expertise and knowledge, and that goes beyond sort of what a high school diploma or equivalent can provide,” said Stotts.

“We are certainly in an era when you really have to have some postsecondary education, be it workforce credential, two-year, four-year or an advanced degree, in order to be successful.”

Tim Sowton, vice president of government affairs and public policy for Business Leaders for Michigan, said increasing education and training beyond high school is vital to grow the state economy.

“Our members are concerned about a shortage of trained talent at all levels in our state,” said Sowton. “This report lays out an important roadmap toward increasing that talent pool.”

Nearly 46 percent of Michigan citizens currently have college, graduate or technical certificates, which results in a need for nearly 779,000 more citizens earning a postsecondary education in the next 10 years to reach the 60 percent goal.

The report indicates the target reflects an estimated number of 64,000 more associate degrees, 231,000 bachelor’s degrees, 45,000 more advanced degrees and 439,000 more postsecondary occupational certificates or employer-valued credentials by 2025.

Stotts said the statewide goal is feasible since employers are increasingly interested in credentials validating an individual’s ability to perform various jobs, and the West Michigan region is already tracking with its local goal of having 64 percent of adults in the workforce with a postsecondary credential by 2025.

“We stand at 57 to 58 percent today and are actually starting to trend upward, and should hit that — but it doesn’t come without a lot of work,” said Stotts in reference to the regional goal.

“We hear from employers there is the need for those technical credentials, and you can rapidly develop those within the workforce because there is a shorter lead time than getting a four-year degree. I definitely think it is possible, but it is not without a lot of challenges.”

Stotts indicated a challenge from the secondary education perspective is increasing the collaboration between K-12 education and employers to promote careers and career pathways so middle and high school students “see the breadth of opportunities offered in West Michigan and across the state.”

“I think too often students don’t see what they might do as adults,” said Stotts. “It makes the work they are doing in school more relevant.”

One of the challenges is emphasizing the credentials valued by employers in the workforce, according to Stotts.

“The more postsecondary education is really looking at the data, investing resources in programs to meet that need, the more successful we will become,” said Stotts. “I think there is a lot of good work going on there, but that is still an opportunity.”

He also said employers have to be proactive in showing career pathways for those pursuing an education and should invest in their existing workforce by increasing the knowledge and skill of workers already employed.

“Everyone needs to play a part in developing talent; it can’t just be left to educators,” said Stotts. “When you have education, workforce development and employers working together, it kind of smooths out a lot of those gaps in communication and allows for more partnerships to develop in order to develop the talent employers are looking for.”

Reaching for Opportunity indicates that, to reach the target goal, the state needs to assess and improve key performance metrics in two areas in the lifelong learning education system in the state: increasing the number of youth and adults engaged with postsecondary education and credential-earning, and the number of participants who successfully complete work-world valuable credentials.

Some of the recommendations suggested in the report to increase Michigan youth participation are: providing better preparation, guidance and financial support; increasing early college credit-taking and earning postsecondary credits; and ensuring “enhanced guidance, preparation and financial support is focused on closing enrollment gaps among low-income and minority students.”

Dan DeGrow, chair of Michigan College Access Network, said one of the biggest challenges with increasing credential attainment is “the lack of guidance to access, navigate and succeed in Michigan’s knowledge economy.”

“MCAN recently launched a new program called Advise Michigan, which places trained advisers directly in schools to help students,” said DeGrow. “We need to expand and grow that program and others that will help high school students see the value of additional education and know how to get it.”

For adults, the recommendations also focused on supporting and expanding “effective and integrated basic education and skilled workforce training programs.”

In terms of policy recommendations ensuring completion and success, the report suggested developing better information tools to support navigation and transfer through postsecondary education to result in a more efficient and less costly process; and implementing success strategies and resources to ensure learners become credentialed and to close attainment gaps by race, gender and income.

For Michigan’s class of 2013, college enrollment rates were at 72 percent for whites, about 62 percent for African-Americans, and approximately 56 percent for Hispanics, according to the report.

Stotts said the report was very good at laying out the big picture, and a real point of emphasis is on the disparities in educational attainment among at-risk populations.

“If we don’t figure out a way to match the educational attainment for African-Americans and Hispanics at the same level as whites, we are not going to be successful as a state,” said Stotts. “That is really a critical importance for the entire state of Michigan. We really have to be focused on how do we address those disparities and eliminate them.”

Reaching for Opportunity was developed by a Postsecondary Credential Attainment Workgroup with representatives from public and independent colleges and universities; Business Leaders for Michigan; Talent 2025; labor leadership and bi-partisan legislative leaders; Michigan Department of Education; Michigan College Access Network; the Governor’s office; Michigan Economic Development Corp.; Workforce Development Agency; and higher education and workforce leaders at the regional and community level.

The group had support with funding from the Kresge, W.K. Kellogg and Lumina foundations and with research from Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Central Michigan University.

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