Boosting the proportion of Michigan residents who obtain a college degree or other postsecondary credential is vital to the state’s future economic competitiveness, both domestically and globally. Ultimately, it is talent, not tax policy, geography, or demographics, that is the primary arbiter of states’ economic vitality. The higher the proportion of a state’s residents who earn a college degree, the higher the state’s per-capita income. The adage that the more you learn, the more you earn, applies to states, to communities, and to individuals.
The long-term demand for college-educated individuals is reinforced by the recently released Michigan Hot 50 High-demand, High-wage Careers through 2026, which shows that 43 require some college, 39 require at least an associate’s degree, and 36 require a bachelor’s degree or higher. The impact of artificial intelligence and automation, and Michigan’s race to become a global mobility hub, will further intensify the transformation of our increasingly knowledge-based economy.
Aspiration as an Accelerant
There are many factors that play a role in achieving a state’s educational attainment level—the proportion of adults who possess postsecondary degrees and credentials. Students’ academic preparedness for the rigors of college studies and the affordability of tuition are certainly among them. So too is a state’s “culture of education,” — the extent to which parents and their children have a desire to attend college and earn a degree.
Fortunately, for Michigan, the college aspirations of its residents is astoundingly high. Evidence of this comes from a recent poll of 600 state residents, commissioned by the Michigan Association of State Universities and conducted by the Glengariff Group. When asked what level of education parents expect their child to earn, more than four out of five (83%) indicated at least a bachelor’s degree or above. Specifically, 48 percent indicated at least a bachelor’s, 27 percent indicated a master’s, and eight percent indicated a doctorate. And a full 87 percent believe a four-year degree is important or very important to obtaining a good job or career.
That spells good news for Michigan. And it’s especially impressive given the state’s industrial legacy, which awarded good paying factory jobs to generations of workers who didn’t have (or need to have) formal postsecondary educational credentials and degrees.
I’ll Help Pay for Yours; You Help Pay for Mine
An equally exciting takeaway from the survey of Michigan residents was their embrace of higher education as a “public good”—state universities that are publicly supported (through taxation) and available to all who seek the benefits of earning a college degree. Three out of four respondents believe that the state should fund higher education to maintain academic excellence at Michigan’s public universities and to keep tuition affordable, with 79 percent supporting a significant increase in state support to the institutions to keep tuition affordable for in-state students.
Hit the Gas, Full Speed Ahead
Given that a state’s talent capacity is the engine that drives its economic prosperity, then it’s the peoples’ educational aspirations that serves as the fuel. Michigan has many challenges as it forges its path to the future. But with a high level of educational aspirations among Michiganders, the pump is primed. As a state, we should be proud of this aspirational orientation. And we must work collaboratively to ensure that our state residents’ college ambitions are fully realized, and with it, Michigan’s destiny.
Daniel J. Hurley is the Chief Executive Officer at the Michigan Association of State Universities