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Wednesday, 11 February 2015 22:43

BLM pushes higher ed affordability and access

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A skilled workforce is right near the top of just about every business and political leader’s wish list in Michigan.

That is certainly true for the state’s business roundtable, the Detroit-based Business Leaders for Michigan. The organization has a new report highlighting the importance of a skilled workforce armed with four-year degrees in in-demand fields of study.

“I think first of all, we need to be clear as business leaders that we need both a more educated and a more skilled workforce,” said Doug Rothwell, BLM’s president and CEO. “It’s not about either/or. It’s not that we just need more skilled trades. It’s not that we just need more people with four-year degrees. We need more of both.”

Getting to the point where higher education can help Michigan become a top 10 state, however, is no easy task, and specifics on how the group hopes to get there remain a bit of an unknown as it continues to study the issue.

BLM set 2020 as an early goal for the state to make progress on the accessibility and affordability of higher education, Rothwell told MiBiz.

The other challenge is how to go about paying for increased educational spending. Funding education is not an easy task, Rothwell said, adding that state legislators lately have been cutting funding for higher education in favor of K-12.

The current BLM plan aims to put together a public-private council consisting of business, state and higher education leaders tasked with championing support for higher education, Rothwell said.

Currently, state funding for Michigan’s colleges and universities comes from the general fund. BLM believes that the council could help identify some alternative ways to fund higher education.

“We (ask in the report), ‘Is the general fund the right source to fund higher education?’” Rothwell said. “You do have to compete with all these other priorities. We do say that we think alternative funding models should be looked at. We don’t know exactly what those may be.”

The report also highlights the notion that by 2020, 70 percent of jobs in Michigan will require some sort of higher education. In addition, four-year degree holders are also 70-percent more likely to be employed than those with just a high school degree.

While it is hardly new for organizations such as BLM to call for an increase in education access and spending, the group believes the timing is crucial to push for more funding, largely due to talent being at a premium for companies in the state.

“We believe that it really is a call to action that we as a state need to really embrace this idea of getting higher education to be a central priority — a key priority, if you will — of our economic growth strategy,” Rothwell said. “And I think that’s maybe what we are not doing in Michigan and other states have done that are seeing greater success.”

Read 2154 times Last modified on Sunday, 15 February 2015 16:26

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