If you build it, they will come. At least, that’s the philosophy Gov. Jennifer Granholm has adopted in her latest attempts to stimulate Michigan’s flailing economy. She recently proposed budgetary provisions to help fund select building projects at state colleges, spurring the state’s economy. But while the plan would create construction jobs, attract students and generally bolster higher education, it is just a small investment in Michigan’s future. Buildings alone cannot support the state’s economic infrastructure, necessitating further policies addressing financial aid and other educational needs, as well as the increased borrowing power to fund them.
The mythical healing power of a better-educated workforce has been a recurring theme of Granholm’s proposals, inspiring such policies as last month’s call to raise the dropout age for the sake of keeping Michigan students in school. This series of construction projects follows that precedent, seeking to improve the quality of higher education in Michigan by renovating older facilities and building new ones.
For the University, this plan would translate into a biology building in Ann Arbor and renovations for its satellite campuses in Dearborn and Flint. But for many schools, Granholm’s plan could offer a coveted chance to grow. A couple renovations or even a new building could mean more and better research opportunities, which is attractive to students and professors alike. They could bring in more of the best from around the world, as well as fight the flight of promising minds.
These projects could also improve the quality of higher education across the board. Several of the state’s community colleges will gain scientific and technological centers under Granholm’s plan, displaying a commitment to education beyond the state’s particular interest in its profitable research universities. From a long-term perspective, the opportunities offered by these new facilities could enrich the education of Michigan’s workforce, strengthening the knowledge-based economy Granholm keeps mentioning.
But buildings aren’t enough to brighten Michigan’s future. The state must continue to make education a priority, ensuring that young children learn to love learning and that they can still afford it as young adults. Legislators also need to recognize that a long-term economic solution has its costs and raise the bond cap – the state’s borrowing limit – accordingly to accommodate the projects excluded from Granholm’s plan. Denying Grand Valley State University a new learning and technology center to replace its 40-year-old library, for example, doesn’t make education look like much of a priority.
Granholm recognizes that the fight to save Michigan’s economy is just beginning, and this latest plan certainly demonstrates a commitment to bolstering education. However, it is hardly the time to congratulate the state. There are still libraries left unbuilt and potential left unrealized. Too bad Michigan can’t just build itself a secure future.