On the wrong track: Michigan education policy

Two new reports make clear again that Michigan is on the wrong track when it comes  to education policy. Both k-12 and higher education. Given the increased alignment between education attainment and state economic prosperity, getting education policy right should be an economic growth priority.

As reported by DBusiness a new study from Demos ranks Michigan 47th for higher education affordability. DBusiness writes:

According to the report, written with support from the Troy-based Kresge Foundation, the average tuition for a public, four-year college in Michigan in 2011-’12 was $10,527, up 15 percent from the 2007-’08 school year. State funding also dropped about 34 percent during this time. In comparison, the national average for tuition was $7,701 in 2011-’12.

“If you want to make Michigan globally competitive, nationally competitive in the 21st century, we’re going to have invest more in education,” says Bill Moses, managing director of education at the foundation. “It’s going to be difficult for Michigan to become one of the better educated states in the country if we’re investing less in higher education on a per capita basis than states like Mississippi, Arkansas, or West Virginia, let alone states with really high college completion rates, like Massachusetts.”  (Emphasis added.)

… The Dēmos study also found that tuition at four-year public universities now averages 15 percent of the median family income in 26 states, and nearly 23 percent of the median family income in Michigan.

You can read the complete Demos report here.

Susan Demas in a MLive column sums up Michigan higher education policy this way: “… the state is spending far less on higher education that it has in the past, slashing its support 33 percent from 2008 to 2012. So students are paying higher tuition and are at the mercy of folks with political axes to grind. Michigan has been known for having one of the finest public university systems in the country. Now our philosophy has been reduced to: less money, more meddling. You don’t need to have an M.B.A. to realize that’s a pretty poor tradeoff for students.” Not smart!

The k-12 report comes from Education Trust-Midwest using data from the past ten years from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Detroit Free Press wrote about the report’s findings this way:

A new analysis of student performance on a rigorous national exam shows that not only are Michigan students not keeping pace with the rest of the nation, but many states are soaring past Michigan and showing faster improvement. Results from 2013 show Michigan students scoring below the national average in math and reading. … More concerning, though, is that if you look at improvement over the 10-year period, Michigan students are at the bottom or near the bottom. Michigan was ranked 49th out of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools in improvement in fourth-grade reading since 2003. Other Michigan rankings: 51st in fourth-grade math improvement, 38th in eighth grade reading improvement; 39th in eighth-grade math improvement.

The Eduction Trust-Midwest report makes clear that this under performance is not primarily happening to poor, minority kids or in traditional public schools. The all too common excuses for our poor results. They find that: “(1)Learning levels are similar in both Michigan’s charter school and traditional public school sectors. (2) Across all groups of students — white, African American, Latino, low-income, higher-income — Michigan’s student achievement rank has fallen in the last decade.”

You can read the full report here. Recommended!

Human capital/talent is the asset that matters most to future economic success. For a state like Michigan, that attracts very few high education attainment adults from elsewhere, the human capital of the state’s future workforce will largely be homegrown. States like Minneapolis with the Twin Cities and, even more so, Illinois with Chicago, which are major talent magnets, can recruit from across the globe at scale their future workforce. But Michigan, without a vibrant central city that is essential to attracting mobile talent at scale, is highly dependent on the quality of its schools to build the skills needed in an increasingly knowledge-based economy.

Unless we get serious about improving the quality of our education system (from early childhood through college) there is almost no chance that Michigan will return to high prosperity. As theses two studies make clear Michigan has not yet gotten serious about making the investments needed to improving education outcomes. If we care about our future economic success, its time for that to change.

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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.

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