More Michigan College Graduates Wanted

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Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants to double the number of college graduates in Michigan in the next decade, but finding the money to do it won't be easy.

Granholm on Wednesday formally accepted a report with wide-ranging recommendations to increase the number of college graduates from the Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth, led by Lt. Gov. John Cherry.

The report calls for guaranteed financial support to help open up post-secondary education for all students, tougher high school course requirements and other suggestions to raise the state's education level.

That's the key to luring the next generation of jobs needed to make Michigan an economic powerhouse, Granholm said.

"These recommendations no doubt will appear in one form or another in policy," Granholm said. "Stay tuned for specifics."

The report's failure to say how its most costly recommendations would be paid for has drawn some criticism in the past week, but it's not an easy question to answer given the state's budget problems. State spending on higher education has fallen by $221 million in the past four years, a drop of more than 11 percent, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

Michigan's $8.8 billion general fund, which this year is spending nearly $1.7 billion on higher education, faces a hole of at least $260 million for the current fiscal year and an even greater shortfall in the next budget year. But commission members said the report can be used to start lobbying the Legislature for more cash.

Educators say that many of the commission's 19 recommendations could be done without large financial investments. Those include making it easier for students to transfer from one college to another and helping students finish their college education in less time.

"Some of the things that can be done are relatively low cost," said Lou Anna Simon, who becomes Michigan State University's president in a few weeks. "There are other recommendations that require money."

Those include increasing the capacity of colleges and universities to teach more students, which could require more buildings and employees.

Cherry said he will lead efforts to make sure the commission's recommendations are put into place. One idea, to replace the high school Michigan Educational Assessment Program test with an exam more like the ACT, already has cleared the Legislature and awaits the signature of the governor, who is expected to sign it.

"We had one success before the report was on the governor's desk," Cherry said. "I think you will find a cooperative state of mind."

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, agreed that increasing access to post-secondary education is of long-term importance to the state. But questions remain about how to pay for it, particularly with Michigan's current budget situation, Ari Adler said.

Cherry has said two-thirds of the jobs created in Michigan in the next decade will require education or training past high school.

But only 26 percent of Michigan's population between the ages of 25-34 has a bachelor's degree or higher. The national average is 27.5 percent, and several states have 33 percent or more.

States with more college graduates tend to have higher average incomes and lower unemployment rates. Granholm said that should be a rallying point as the push is made to make higher education a top funding priority.

"Part of the job of the commission is to help people understand the higher you go, the more money you make," Granholm said. "It is in peoples' self-interest to be highly educated."