Opinion: Private colleges teach useful skills

Jeff Abernathy

In recent years, Michigan employers have emphasized the need for stronger learning outcomes. They say too many of today’s job candidates lack the knowledge and skills they need to be successful—which, in turn, results in a plethora of economic challenges for our state.

As president of Alma College, I, too, am concerned about boosting learning outcomes—but not solely for economic reasons. Today’s world can benefit from more thoughtful discourse, solution-oriented leadership, and improved cultural understanding.

Private, non-profit colleges aim for nothing less than providing an earth-changing education that prepares the leaders so needed by our increasingly divided society.

The students who live, work, and learn on our campus—and, indeed, the campuses of all 26 private, non-profit colleges and universities in Michigan—are not just learning the academic skills they need to be successful in their future employment. They also are gaining the critical skills they need to be thoughtful, caring individuals who contribute to society in innumerable ways.

The high-touch liberal arts education we offer is aimed, in part, at solving the challenges of today’s world. As we prepare students who have the breadth of training that higher education demands, we help them to discover how they will use that knowledge to serve, and to improve, society.

That is not to say we’re not fulfilling the economic purposes Michigan businesses expect. Our graduates are skilled, educated, and on the job every day to support innovation and growth across our state.

What’s best about the strong, unique approach to independent, non-profit higher education in Michigan? It’s the fact that we make our deeply personalized learning experiences available and affordable. Thanks to the Michigan Tuition Grant and other private institutional efforts, we ensure that all Michigan students, regardless of family income and ability to pay, can attend college and earn a degree.

* More than 80 percent of students receive financial aid directly from their institutions.

* Nearly half of students in our colleges and universities received need-based federal Pell grants during 2015.

* Grants provided by Michigan’s independent colleges directly have increased to more than $1 billion per year, leveraging state-provided grant funds $27 to $1.

* Also, 27 percent of undergraduates receive the Michigan Tuition Grant to fill the final gap in funding for students in-need.

These financial supports aren’t the only results Michigan’s independent, non-profit colleges and universities can boast. Our graduation rates are high and our career placement is strong. Our economic footprint is game-changing for the communities in which we’re located. And our research, local partnerships, and collaborative projects make a difference to the state’s economy.

As we celebrate the dynamic, holistic work of Michigan’s independent colleges and universities, it is important to remember that we are more than just economic drivers producing skilled, knowledgeable talent. We are also careful cultivators of tomorrow’s leadership—and our work encompasses the nourishment and support of a new generation.

A generation that’s capable of changing the earth.

Jeff Abernathy is president of Alma College.