July 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

THE MICHIGAN ECONOMY

Higher ed: Michigan's best hope

Michigan's investment in higher education is well worth it. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

For the third year, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature have adopted a budget that provides additional resources to higher education – reversing a more than decade-long trend of cuts to this vital area of state investment.

The increase will help universities make access to higher education available to more students, and give them the resources to continue serving as an important engine of entrepreneurship and research that is vital to growing an economy in the 21st century.

In return, Michigan’s universities have agreed to hold down tuition, and continue boosting support for low and moderate income students to ensure that opportunity is available to all in our state.

Much work needs to be done. State support for higher education for next year will be about $1.5 billion – still well under the $1.9 billion of 2000-01 fiscal year. Considering that enrollment is up about 30 percent, or 71,000 students, you can see the state’s per student support falls far short of where we were at the beginning of the millennium.

Michigan’s support for higher education, at $209 per person, is well under the national average of $259 per person.

The changing economic world we live in requires more college graduates to buoy the economy of the entire state. No longer can someone with a high school degree expect to earn a middle class living. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that a worker 25-32 with a bachelor’s degree earns $45,500 annually; someone with a two year degree or some college earns $30,000 and a high school graduate earns $28,000.

That same study found the unemployment rate among graduates in that age range was 3.8 percent; the unemployment rate for those with a high school degree was 12.2 percent.

Bottom line: College graduates and the knowledge economy today drive the middle class economy in the way that factory workers used to in Michigan.

College graduates have the resources to pay for new homes, buy new cars, visit restaurants and shop in stores that can provide a living for those who may not have degrees.

Today, Michigan ranks 36th in the proportion of adults with a four year degree, and 35th in per capita income. That’s not good enough if we want to retain and attract the well-paying knowledge companies that are now the source of middle class jobs.

Michigan’s universities and its students appreciate the support of leaders including Gov. Rick Snyder, key legislative leaders such as House Speaker Jase Bolger and House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, education advocates Reps. Al Pscholka and John Walsh and Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker and Roger Kahn – along with the many other lawmakers.

These leaders have chosen to invest in higher education. The data clearly show that Michigan’s future is in college.

Michael Boulus is executive director of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.