Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

May 25, 2014

Jack Lessenberry: Macomb CC a model for others to study

Michigan’s sprawling suburban Macomb County has long been both an anomaly — and a herald of the future.

Back in the 1950s, when Detroit started emptying into the northern suburbs, white collar workers tended to migrate north and west to Oakland County; blue-collar ones east, to Macomb.

Macomb’s working-class voters won national attention when they became “Reagan Democrats” in 1980. (These days, like the nation, they’ve twice voted for President Obama.)

Even as Michigan’s population began slipping, Macomb, which now has about 850,000 people, has continued to grow.

But the county that became a famous blue-collar suburban symbol, may be leading the state in a most unlikely area:

Education. With the collapse of the state’s old muscle-based full-employment economy, pretty much everyone seems to agree on three things: 1) Michigan needs more higher education. 2) That education needs to be affordable, and 3) it needs to lead to jobs.

Macomb Community College seems to have created a model that works to deliver all three at a wide range of levels. Students of limited means can and do enter here, take basic courses for less than half the tuition they’d pay at a four-year school, and then transition into one, often taking university courses on Macomb’s campus.

The school also hosts stunning three-month-long lecture series on major topics every year, such as the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression, and pays to bring in world-class scholars and former top government officials to take part.

But the college also is a place that provides fast job training to people who really need it. Imagine a 45-year-old housewife who has few job skills, little money and has lost her spouse.

Macomb has an eight-week Production Officer Certificate Program which trains people to run the fairly complex machinery used in today’s assembly plants and other manufacturing operations.

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