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Michigan’s economy depends on having skilled workers.

In the “glory days” of Michigan’s past, high school graduates could enter the middle class by taking jobs in the manufacturing sector upon graduation and eventually moving into higher-paying, skilled positions.

Today, as technological advances and overseas production have greatly reduced the need for entry-level and low-skilled labor, a high school diploma has much less value in the labor market. Employers increasingly prefer to hire skilled workers who have credentials such as a college degree, professional certification, or license.

Despite the growing need for post-secondary credentials, 37% of adults age 25 and older have no post-secondary education, and 23% have some college but no college degree.

In Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties, 44% to 53% of adults have no post-secondary education and 22% to 26% have some college but no college degree.

With all of this in mind, Michigan has set a goal of having 60% of its working-age population possess some type of post-secondary credential by 2030. This is known as 60 by 30, and the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity has an office intended for this purpose.

The governor’s budget, released three weeks ago, supports this goal with several important investments to help Michiganders get into and succeed in college or training programs.

Portfolio budget:

∫ Expands eligibility for Michigan Reconnect by lowering the age from 25 to 21, and making it available to up to 350,000 additional students. Michigan Reconnect provides full (in-district) or partial (out-of-district) coverage of community college tuition costs and can be used to complete an associate’s degree or skills-eligible Pell’s degree program.

∫ Increased funding for the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, which offers up to $2,750 per year at a community college, $5,500 per year at a public university, or $4,000 per year at an eligible private university.

∫ Creates a one-time student wellness fund to meet the mental health needs of college and university students.

∫ Creates a new Student Success Program to enhance student grade and completion.

∫ The Reconnection Bachelor’s Degree Pathway Program provides assistance to students whose education has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic to return to college and earn a bachelor’s degree.

∫ Includes funding for comprehensive student services such as child care, on-campus food pantries, housing, mental health support, or funding to resolve institutional barriers to college success.

∫ Increase funding for adult education to help adults who need basic skills therapy to become ready for post-secondary education or training, and

Develops pilot programs to connect adult learners to post-secondary and employment opportunities.

These are bold investments that will pay off for Michigan.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the median wage for workers in Michigan with a bachelor’s degree ($36.02 per hour) is nearly twice as high as that of those without an education after high school ($18.73 per hour). (Unfortunately, this data is not available for associate degrees or professional certifications.)

In addition to lower levels of educational attainment in the counties in this paper for readers of this paper, there are higher poverty rates and lower average wages than in the state as a whole. Offering financial assistance and comprehensive services to local residents to help them succeed at Alpina Community College or one of Michigan’s many public, private, and nonprofit universities seems to make sense.

Raising the wages of Michiganders by helping them achieve higher levels of education and skills training reduces financial hardship and increases family well-being. It leads to more consumer spending at local businesses, which stimulates the economy as more dollars are in turn spent locally by those businesses’ employees. It helps reduce unemployment and addresses the shortage of skilled workers. Finally, it increases tax revenue and reduces the need for public assistance.

In other words, the new spending the governor has proposed is a form of economic development that will benefit Michigan businesses, workers, and families and will boost the state budget. It would be a sound investment.

Peter Roarke is a senior policy analyst at the University of Michigan for Public Policy.

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