Go to college II

At about the same time that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was saying “Go to college. I can’t be any clearer.”, the Grand Rapids Business Journal reported that Governor Snyder at an economic summit he hosted in Grand Rapids said: “Michigan education is “too often focused on a diploma or a degree,” he said, “and not saying, ‘Are you career ready?’”

What Schmidt understands is that the best way to prepare for a successful career/meet the Governor’s career ready standard is getting a four year degree or more. The evidence is overwhelmingly: those with a four year degree earn more and work more over a career than those with less education. And the gap since the onset of the Great Recession is growing, not, as conventional wisdom increasingly tell us, shrinking .

The Business Journal writes: “In determining Michigan’s economic future, “probably the single most important issue is talent,” according to Gov. Rick Snyder — specifically, technically skilled talent for Michigan manufacturing and agriculture.” (Emphasis added.)

Does the Michigan economy need more young adults after high school to pursue careers in the skilled trades and other technical jobs requiring the equivalent of an Associates degree or occupational certificate? Of course. Although not mainly in manufacturing and agriculture. Two sectors that are a declining component of the American and Michigan economy.

But the need for more skilled technicians should not be instead of more Michiganders earning four year degrees. As the chart below on the Millennials economic well being by education attainment from the Pew Research Center makes clear Michigan’s education system is not too focused on college degrees. One can make a strong case that the opposite is the case. That both the Michigan public and its leaders––a too large proportion of both political and business––are not committed enough to the need to increase four year degree attainment.

It is not just the most reliable path to prosperity for individuals but also the state as a whole. States with high college attainment rates are overwhelmingly the most  prosperous states. Michigan is 34th in the proportion of adults with a four year degree which leads to being 35th in per capita income.


At the 2011 Mackinac Policy Conference, Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone offered what might be the best advice on whether going to college makes sense for all Michigan kids or not when he said: “… I tell people, when you’re in doubt, when the experts at Harvard are writing that college is not for everyone, when in doubt, do what rich people do. … I know a lot of wealthy people. And I have yet to see one of my friends who has three kids, and says ‘Ok, I’m sending you to Harvard, I’m sending you to Princeton, but you, I’m thinking hair dresser school,’ right? I’ve never heard it. They only have one goal, which is to get all of their kids in college.” (Emphasis added.)

And to get to the best possible four year degree university, the affluent by and large send their kids to college prep high schools either in the best public schools or private schools. Schools that emphasize a broad liberal arts curriculum. And where vocation training in most of those schools is not offered.

As Geoffrey Canada concluded: “… if you get paid to teach other people’s kids, you should have the same expectations for those kids as you do your own.” Exactly!

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Of course we should not use technical education as a chance to replace a four year (or even more) degree. But there are many young people who do not have the skills and/or motivation to complete a four year degree. It would be much better for these young people to complete an associates degree at a community college or to get a technical degree in something like welding than it would be for them to just waste the years after high school with no job or goals.

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