The importance of higher education can’t be understated. In order to compete in an increasingly global economy, Americans are seeking degrees at high rates. Still, the demands of an advanced economy aren’t being met by current graduates’ qualifications. With the improvement of the U.S. economy over recent months, more manufacturing and information technology companies are looking to hire qualified engineers but have to face the reality of a talent shortage. The shortage, which may be caused by a lack of guidance for students toward their majors of interest, is pushing up the unemployment rate and hurting the economy. Therefore, efforts have to be made to change the situation and bring more students to the College of Engineering.

Even as the economy struggles to get back on track, job growth last month was slower than economists expected — jobs in high-tech and engineering fields remain open. The Engineering Society of Detroit hosted a job fair in Novi, Mich. last month, and even in a state with high unemployment, there were six job openings for each candidate. The Detroit Free Press reported that out-of-state applications were able to fill some of the open positions. Other companies looking to hire left the job fair with a total of 3,500 unfilled positions. Experts have cited lack of skilled workers as an aspect of continued high rates of unemployment around the nation.

Before students get to college, they should be encouraged to study engineering. Michigan high schools, for example, should place more emphasis on science classes that may lead students to an interest in engineering. It may also be helpful to issue more State H-1B visas — which allow foreign workers to work specialty occupations in the U.S. — so talented foreign students could fill the shortage for a temporary period.

The most important way to guide students toward jobs that this economy needs filled is to make colleges — engineering along with all majors — more affordable. The University’s College of Engineering is consistently ranked as one of the top undergraduate engineering schools in the country. Last summer, tuition was increased about 7 percent. While the University tries to rein in its spending, state funding has also decreased drastically over the past decade. Michigan must return to increased higher education funding, and colleges must do their part to make higher education more affordable. The country needs a well-educated work force to advance its economy.

Michigan should start working to nurture more qualified engineers, since many manufacturing and high-tech companies are now facing shortages of engineering positions. As a top institution of higher education, the University must lead this effort to benefit the state economy.

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