Workforce education is not up to par
The ratings are there for Michigan’s ability to create, attract, and retain an educated workforce.
The best thing you can say is that they are “incomplete” – at least when it comes to getting students to graduate from college.
The Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2022 State of Education Report released this week makes it clear that our school-to-work pipeline doesn’t just leak, it gushes. The problem is particularly acute for young people of color. If state policymakers don’t take concrete action to address this now, it could set back our ability to develop the diverse workforce that Michigan so desperately needs.
Consider some of these key findings from the report:
- Overall, the region’s post-secondary education levels still lag behind other top-class regions, which have also made additional gains. Nearly half of Metro Detroit students have not graduated in six years. For residents of the city of Detroit, that’s an even more alarming 74%.
- Total post-secondary education, including certificates in programs such as welding, reached 50% in an 11-county region of southeastern Michigan in 2019. That compares to around 60% for the top cities examined by the room, like Seattle and Minneapolis.
- Employment needs and talent education levels here in Michigan are out of sync. Fifty-seven percent of jobs require a four-year degree, but less than a third — just 32 percent — of state residents hold a bachelor’s degree.
- According to the report, out of 100 students tracked from across the region who were on track to graduate in 2018, only 81 did so. Of these, 60 have enrolled in college and only a third of the entire cohort or 22 have graduated or graduated from post-secondary education by 2020.
A few years ago, the Detroit chamber set a goal of 60% completion of a college degree or other post-secondary credential by 2030. Some incentive programs are underway, including tuition fee guarantee. Detroit Promise tuition for high school students in the city and a national internship program. called YearUp which is designed to connect college-aged students with big business. This program is coming soon to the Detroit area.
And there was a positive note: First-time enrollment at Michigan’s four-year colleges rose 1.7% for fall 2021, according to the report, but overall enrollment still remains below US levels. before the pandemic.
That won’t be enough to overcome other systemic problems that only state lawmakers — in partnership with educators and business leaders — can fix.
They include better funding for state colleges and universities, many of which are struggling to regain post-pandemic enrollment losses. Also essential: an acknowledgment of the barriers that prevent young adults from pursuing higher education or certificate programs, such as transportation, affordable housing and child care.
Barring a total overhaul of Michigan’s education system and funding, there are still fruits at hand that could help. Some states have turned to requiring families of high school graduates to complete or explicitly opt out of the application for federal financial aid known as the FAFSA. This would go a long way in helping students and parents realize that opportunities and help exist.
We recognize that bachelor’s degrees aren’t the only path to good jobs. But it is also indisputable that the cities that have the most also have the strongest economies.
Much has been said in recent months about Michigan’s need to grow its “knowledge economy” in order to keep high-tech investment in the state. There is no single answer to this dilemma, but making education a priority is a start.