Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 3, 2013

Forum: Universities help, but state needs more support

Michigan’s economy is rebounding faster than most states, but businesses won’t be able to get the high-skilled workers they need unless we commit to making higher education more affordable for students.

Data shows Michigan’s public universities, as a group, confer the fifth-highest number of degrees and certificates among all states. Even more impressive, Michigan produces the fourth-highest number in critical skills areas, including math, science, engineering and technology - degrees needed to fill the high-paying, in-demand jobs that will help Michigan become a Top Ten state for job, personal income and economic growth.

A recent study (http://urcmich.org) released by the University Research Corridor showed its three universities - Michigan State, the University of Michigan and Wayne State - conferred 31,683 graduate and undergraduate degrees in 2011, more than half in high-tech, high-demand, and medical fields. That successful record puts Michigan’s Research Corridor schools ahead of six other university innovation clusters nationwide.

At Business Leaders for Michigan, we think far more remains to be done. Michigan is projected to need about 1 million college graduates in the next decade, yet only a quarter of Michigan adults over age 24 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. We tell our children they need a college degree to succeed, yet we’re pricing college out of their reach.

The state has dropped its financial support for higher education by 50 percent over the last decade when adjusted for inflation, causing tuition to nearly double and student debt to skyrocket.

Policymakers have been trying to reverse course. Champions in the Legislature such as Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker have pushed for more funding for universities if they are efficiently producing the talent Michigan needs and making higher education more financially accessible. Last year’s higher education budget reflected an increase, and this year’s proposed budget continues that trend. But more must be done.

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