Education for more than Michigan employment

Phil Power, the terrific founder of the Center for Michigan, recently wrote a column for Bridge entitled: Schools, colleges aren’t preparing students for careers in Michigan. I find the title quite troubling. It assumes that the purpose of schools and colleges is preparing Michigan students for Michigan jobs and careers. It is the same thinking behind the increasingly popular notion that education should be the supplier of workers to meet the demands of Michigan employers.

As we explored previously it seems to me that the education system that we should want for all of our kids is the one the affluent want for their kids. As I wrote, the common characteristics of the k-16 schools most of their kids and grandkids attend are: “An education that prepares students for adult life in all its dimensions, not just for a job or even a career. An education that prepares students to pursue their dreams any place on the planet, not just here in Michigan. An education that is about being a lifelong learner, not just someone that scores well on a standardized test today.” Those –– not preparing students for Michigan careers –– should be the goals of our education system for all Michigan students.

In another post I explored more directly the notion that Michigan schools and colleges should be about preparing Michigan students for jobs with Michigan employers. I wrote then (October 2011):

For more than a century what it has meant to be a Michigan resident and taxpayer is access at affordable rates to a world class system of public higher education that prepares students to better take advantage of life’s opportunities no matter where you choose to live and work after college. It was one of the great benefits of being a Michigan resident. And it served us well – both as individuals and as a state.

… Our Governor, Larry Page and Eli Broad are among the thousands of kids who grew up in Michigan, graduated from a Michigan public universities and made their fortune elsewhere. Were they well served by our public higher education system? Of course they were. Did they do something wrong – rip off Michigan taxpayers – when they decided to use their terrific education someplace other than Michigan? Of course not.

Limiting public higher education to just focusing on the current needs of Michigan employers or what some government analysts think Michigan jobs of the near future will be will inevitably reduce the quality of our public higher education system. Courses and other programming that make a university great will be eliminated because they are not aligned with the needs of Michigan employers. The consequence: the same proportion of the next generation of Snyder’s, Page’s and Broad’s will still choose to live and work outside of Michigan but now they will be far more likely to go to college outside of Michigan as well. They will want an education – as you do for your kids and grandkids – that prepares them for global opportunities, not just those available in Michigan.



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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 3 Comments

  1. I think that by implication the statement “preparing Michigan students for jobs with Michigan employers” suggests that Michigan employers have different needs than employers everywhere else. Probably not the case. If we can improve any college graduate’s employablility overall, we will improve their employability to Michigan employers. So, if we improve their employabitlity and if there are jobs in Michigan, they will tend to stay in Michigan, according to the data that comes from the state demographer.

    1. Lets leave aside for another day the notion that if there are jobs here college grads will stay. The evidence is clear that more than a job is involved in the location decisions of recent college grads. The objection to training for Michigan employers and matching supply with the demand by Michigan employers is that it makes employers not students the beneficiaries of the education system. Satisfying their narrow needs becomes the prime purpose of education not the broad interest of students and the community as a whole. That is the major objection to this point of view. There is more to life and therefore there should be more to education than preparing for a job. And even when it comes to working education should be about preparing for a long career not a first job. And that involves many skills that are not in demand by Michigan employers today. I come to the opposite conclusion than you. Which is a broad education that prepares students for the economy today and tomorrow anyplace on the planet is the best education to meet the long term interests of the Michigan economy and its employers.

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