Michigan is projected to add nearly 375,000 job openings this decade, many of them requiring education beyond high school. Where will we find the talent to fill those jobs?
With an aging population and declining birth rate that is not keeping up, the demographics are not on our side. But Michigan has another shortcoming that is holding us back. One that is keeping too many families stuck in poverty. And it goes to the heart of our state’s ability to compete.
The problem is that our working-age adults have less education than the national average. Among Great Lakes states, we rank last for postsecondary credentials.
That is a serious disadvantage. And it is why TalentFirst has launched a statewide multimillion-dollar initiative to help more adults obtain the postsecondary credentials they need to thrive in a knowledge-based economy.
The Michigan Center for Adult College Success, funded by the Legislature, will serve as the state’s primary resource for research, support and best practices on increasing adult enrollment and completion of postsecondary credentials and degrees. The Center will partner with community colleges and universities to research, design, fund, pilot and evaluate innovative programs.
Complementing state goals
As of 2021, Michigan’s postsecondary attainment rate was 50.5%, compared to the national average of 53.7%. In response to the need for educated talent, the state has invested in postsecondary tuition support programs like Michigan Reconnect. Michigan also has set a goal that 60 percent of working age adults have a postsecondary degree by 2030. To get there, we need 431,000 more adults to succeed and earn a credential by the end of the decade.
Increasing enrollment is not enough: Only 30% of Michigan adults who enroll in a community college complete their credential in six years. This another area where Michigan lags other states: According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the latest (2016 cohort) public community college six-year completion rates for adults is 39.7%
Improving these completion rates begins by recognizing these nontraditional students have complex lives. Job and family responsibilities are just some of the most common demands that can distract from their education ambitions.
That’s where the Center comes in. The aim is to make Michigan the leader in adult enrollment and completion of credentials and degrees.
This begins by identifying public universities, private colleges, and community colleges that want to develop better ways to attract adult students and enable them to persist and earn credentials. The Center will assist with new program design, offering technical assistance and seed funding to test new designs. The Center will work with partners to deploy at scale those initiatives that produce increased credential completion. This work is funded by a one-time state appropriation of $9.2 million to be spent over four years, primarily on launching pilot programs at community colleges and universities.
Critical for employers – but also for families
If we hope to compete economically, we must close the skills and education gaps in Michigan. Adult learners are critical to that, and this is not limited to postsecondary education. Our state has 716,000 working-age adults who lack a high school diploma, leaving them far more likely to be unemployed and living in poverty.
Already, 267,000 of adults aged 18-64 without a diploma are not in the workforce. The stakes for them are getting higher as employers turn to automation to fill entry-level jobs. This includes jobs that used to be available to workers with less than a high school education, jobs that are never coming back. Helping adults transition from these low-paying jobs to higher-paying jobs that require more education and skills – that is a key goal for the Center and critical to Michigan’s long-term success.
That’s why, in addition to the emphasis on adult postsecondary education, TalentFirst recently issued a call for reforms to the state’s strategy on adult foundational education.
For the sake of our families and economic well-being, both must be improved. Michigan must increase the number of adults earning their diploma or high school equivalency. This will increase the pool eligible to enroll in postsecondary education, where they can access to innovative supports that will help adult learners succeed at the next level.
This is how we open the door to good-paying jobs, allowing more Michiganders to build better lives for themselves and their families.
To develop tailored best practices for postsecondary institutions, the Michigan Center for Adult College Success needs to hear from education providers and learners alike about their experiences.