Providing a secure education for our youth is an essential responsibility of the state government. In Michigan, we need our state government to step up now. Despite being home to two of the top 30 public universities in the United States, Michigan ranks 36th in the nation in college attainment. Michigan’s Senate Democratic Caucus, led by Ann Arbor’s own Rep. Rebekah Warren, has put forward a proposal that would propel our state to the forefront on this issue and make Michigan a leader on education policy in the United States.

The proposed Michigan 2020 Plan would award any high school graduate in the state of Michigan $10,617 per year to put towards the payment of tuition at any college in Michigan. The grants would be available to any student, whether educated in a private school, a public school or at home and would increase over time to match rising tuition rates.

The Michigan 2020 Plan was first introduced during the 2012 legislative session. Despite the support of the entire Michigan Democratic Caucus, the Republican-controlled Senate didn’t allow the bill to pass beyond the hearing stage. The bill has been revived this session, and Gretchen Whitmer, senate minority leader, says that the 2020 Plan is her highest priority for 2013. Senate Democrats recognize the importance of higher education to Michigan residents and hope to “drive Michigan into the 21st century.”

Students at the University understand firsthand the difficulties of affording a college education. The skyrocketing costs of tuition at the University and across the state have saddled current students with overwhelming student loan debt and deterred students from even applying to schools like Michigan just because the costs seem too high.

Not only will the Michigan 2020 Plan help students attain higher education, but it will also spur an important economic stimulus. Whitmer has said that the state of Michigan needs to produce “a million new degree holders by 2025 if we are going to be a place to do business. This could be a game-changer for Michigan.” The 2020 Plan will encourage parents and young people to stay in the state of Michigan to experience the benefits of this plan, hopefully stemming the population slump that our state has experienced for the past decade while attracting a diverse and well-trained workforce as our state moves away from manufacturing as a primary source of employment.

The 2020 Plan would be funded by a combination of the elimination of corporate tax incentives, of which the state of Michigan awards some $35 billion every year, and an elimination of some of the $28 billion in-state contracts. Whitmer proposes that some of the money from both of these sources be diverted to pay for the plan, thus preventing tax paying families from incurring any of the costs.

The Michigan 2020 Plan provides opportunities for those who wouldn’t otherwise have them. With the increasing cost of college, more and more low-income families are shying away from saddling their kids with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and, consequently, qualified students are unable to attend schools like the University of Michigan because of the cost.

Attending a Michigan college requires hard work and dedication on the part of the student. We should reward students’ hard work by allowing them to continue their educational achievement rather than putting up financial barriers. Education is an investment. The Michigan 2020 Plan recognizes the importance of investing in the future, and, through easing access to higher education, hopes to reap the returns of a more educated and skilled Michigan workforce.

Trevor Dolan and Ryne Menhennick are LSA freshmen.

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