Michigan has many important priorities that matter to our economic future and our people. But as the members of the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (MIHEART) shared in our recently released report Total Talent, we believe that talent-building must be the next administration’s top priority.

Nothing is more central to our ability to create jobs, attract jobs, and help the state’s residents find economic security than equipping everyone with a postsecondary credential and the skills needed for success in the Michigan marketplace.

As executive director of the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), I have been convening MIHEART ― comprised of the leaders of Michigan’s business, military, law enforcement, K-12 education, higher education and government stakeholders ― to identify, advocate, and implement the powerful talent attainment agenda Michigan needs.

A real commitment to talent-building starts with quality early childhood and K-12 education — so learners have the solid foundation on which to take the next step to obtain postsecondary credentials.

But for Michigan’s economy to compete domestically and globally, the state’s next generation of workers, as well as the more than 1.4 million Michiganders already in the labor market but whose education consists of a high school diploma, must be supported to obtain a degree or credential beyond high school. They deserve a credential that makes them ready for a changing workplace, armed with specific specialized skills employers need now — as well as the higher-order critical thinking, communication, teamwork and other abilities that allow workers to adapt as the workplace changes. These are the skills delivered by education and credentials earned beyond high school. 

The Total Talent report notes that by 2025, over 60 percent of Michigan jobs will require some type of postsecondary degree or credential, and virtually all the jobs that pay well. To date, Michigan has increased its rate of postsecondary credential attainment to almost 44 percent of the population — but states and communities with higher rates are blowing by us ― and reaping greater economic gains in the form of job creation and employer attraction.

And while we are blessed with one of the strongest network of public and private higher education institutions in the country — Michigan has made it harder, not easier, for our citizens to access (and succeed in) education beyond high school.

Today, Michigan ranks 40th in the nation in providing student financial aid for higher education ― and has shifted the burden of paying for postsecondary education onto the backs of students and families. Michigan has one of the highest share of higher education costs being borne by students and families — we rank 6th in the nation on this troubling metric.

Young people emerging from our high schools must be able to find and afford a path to a postsecondary degree or certificate. Our adult workers do too. Michigan has more workers than almost every state already on the job having some experience with post-secondary education — more than 20 percent ― but without the security of an employer-valued postsecondary credential.

If we are to ensure many more individuals achieve the life-changing goal of a postsecondary degree or other credential, we, as employers and as leaders of the schools, colleges and universities that prepare Michigan’s talent, commit to doing our part and ramping up our efforts.

But we also need leadership from the next governor to improve the prospects that Michigan will fully realize its talent capacity: Higher education credential-earning and talent attainment must be the No.1 public policy priority for Michigan.

The members of the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable are committed to working with the next governor, her or his administration, and Legislature to create and attract jobs and make Michigan the state that makes real the promise of education past high school for all our citizens.

Brandy Johnson is executive director of the Michigan College Access Network.

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