Higher Ed Investment Must Be Made Priority

Higher Ed Investment Must Be Made Priority
April 6, 2014/The Mining Journal

By Any Clickner

Each day, statewide, there are more than 65,000 jobs waiting to be filled by qualified applicants. To fully understand the magnitude of this problem, visit the state's employment website: www.mitalent.org.

But Michigan's lingering challenges are not the result of a lack of jobs; they are the result of a lack of education and opportunity. This is why Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed funding hike for universities is a much-needed reinvestment in Michigan's future.

It is important to understand there is a direct relationship between state support of universities and affordable tuition. Today, about 80 percent of the cost of a public university degree comes from tuition, and only 20 percent from public funding.

This reinvestment will increase college affordability; an action that will ensure Michigan has the future talent that it needs.

In my Monday Mining Journal columns, I often speak about economic development in our region and how we all play a role in that space. As our business development team meets with current and prospective businesses every day, we are on the front lines when it comes to understanding the challenges these folks face.

Talent attraction and retention are at the top of that list. Whether it is a welder, auto mechanic, logger, truck driver, lab technician, engineer, teacher or nurse the need exists. A key to solving this challenge is reinvesting in higher education.

Most good-paying jobs in Michigan require more than a high school education. However, this does not necessarily mean a four-year degree.

Many career opportunities exist in trades, hospitality, technology, mining, forestry and similar industries that require a certificate or associates degree. It is important to remember that higher-ed encompasses all of this; certificates, associate degrees, bachelor's degree and graduate degrees.

There is not a one-size-fits-all, which is the beauty of higher education. There is a direct correlation between state support and tuition, and by making college more affordable, our state can begin to address the skills deficit in its workforce - which is quickly becoming a glaring weakness.

As if the gap between current jobs available and qualified talent isn't concerning enough, add to it the staggering number of baby boomers that are expected to retire!

In Michigan, 10,000 employees will reach retirement age each month until 2020 when the number is expected to accelerate. That's about one in every six working age resident that will hit age 65 in this decade. What are we doing as a community, a region and a state to prepare?

The economic disparity between those with and without postsecondary education is the largest in U.S. history.

For workers between 25 and 34, those with an associate's degree will earn an average of $7,000 more annually than their peers with high school diplomas. For those with a bachelor's degree, average earnings are $17,550 more.

The time to reinvest is now. The Upper Peninsula is home to three of Michigan's fifteen public universities: Northern Michigan University (NMU), Michigan Tech University and Lake Superior State University, and multiple community colleges across the region.

Aside from the economic impact these major employers have, many of their graduates choose to stay in the region adding to that economic contribution. In 2012, Michigan universities had a $24 billion economic impact on the state.

Did you know that the unemployment rate for workers with bachelor's degrees is 3.8 percent compared to 12.2 percent for high school diploma workers? Michigan needs to reinvest in young minds to remain globally competitive.

While there were more than 280,000 students enrolled in higher education in recent years, thousands of others did not pursue higher education because it was not affordable.

Here is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people across the state.

I urge you, especially families with students who are starting to look at college options, to call or write your legislator and encourage them to support this budget increase for higher education.

The dollars we reinvest now will help universities and colleges pave the way to a more prosperous future for our students and our state.

Remember, these young people are our future CEOs, entrepreneurs, senators and community leaders. From an economic developer's perspective, it's our future workforce. Let's make sure they are armed with the tools necessary to lead us into the next generation.

It's where the smart money belongs.

Editor's note: Amy Clickner, CEcD, CFM, is chief executive officer of the Lake Superior Community Partnership.