Report outlines steps to increase advanced degrees in Michigan

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 - 3:35pm

With the help of University students and faculty, a group of state legislators released a set of recommendations on Tuesday aiming to increase the number of Michigan residents with post-secondary degrees over the next 10 years.

The report, titled Reaching for Opportunity, was compiled by several Michigan colleges including the University, as well as bipartisan group of legislative leaders and various other organizations. The recommendations outline paths to increasing the percentage of Michigan individuals pursue higher education and obtain associate degrees, technical certificates or any other advanced degree.

Currently, 46 percent of Michigan’s working population holds a post-secondary degree. Reaching for Opportunity aims to increase the number of post-secondary degree or credential holders to 60 percent by 2025.

Daniel Hurley, chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said the report aims to increase the economic viability of the state to meet the increasing demand for skilled labor.

“This is a report that is ultimately about ensuring future economic prosperity in Michigan,” Hurley said. “From the individual citizen standpoint and from a collective statewide standpoint, higher educational levels translate to higher incomes.”

Rackham student Jonathan McNaughtan, who helped complete research for the project, said one of the key takeaways from conducting the research was the importance of secondary education.

“We know that higher education matters,” he said. “It decreases the poverty rate. Education is associated with being more healthy. Education is associated with being less likely to be laid off, and it’s also obviously associated with higher income.”  

McNaughtan said the study also found that Michigan has more progress to make before it becomes a top-performing state when it comes to educational attainment.

“It is not impossible, but there is still a lot that needs to be done,” he said.

The report lays out several policy recommendations for reaching the 60 percent goal, many of which are rooted in creating an environment in the state that will allow more people to attend post-secondary institutions and complete degrees. Proposals include exposing middle and high school students to post-secondary institutions early on, ensuring high school counselors are adequately prepared to provide college counseling and streamlining financial aid programs.

Hurley emphasized the importance of bolstering financial aid, noting that Michigan falls in the bottom 10 states for need-based scholarship funding.

“If I had to identify one point as most important, it would be the call for a simplified, consolidated and significantly enhanced need-based financial aid program,” Hurley said. “We are 41st in the country in terms of funding and I think that that initiative alone will greatly help college access.”

State Rep. Sam Singh (D–East Lansing), who worked on the report, said it serves as a starting point for further development and collaboration.

“If we are going to be a top state in economic growth then we have to start investing more in our education systems,” he said. “This report was a hope to kind of kick start the conversation and move us into a faster gear for change.”

When considering how the recommendations will affect institutions like the University, Singh said the report is an opportunity for cooperation between educational institutions, such as universities, community colleges and K-12 schools.

“All these institutions will have to look at how to coordinate better among themselves and also work with their local community colleges and K-12 systems,” Singh said. “It’s an opportunity for us to help shape the upcoming workforce of the state. This report is a roadmap that will connect the higher education institutions and the private sector.”

McNaughtan said the report is targeted at the University as well.

“I really look at this as a call to action for the University of Michigan,” McNaughtan said. “We are looking at how the University is going to react, and how it will take the already great things that it is doing and use this report to guide those discussions and initiatives.”