Crain’s Detroit Business
March 20, 2023
The days are long gone when a person could walk out of high school, into an auto plant and make enough money to raise a family and buy a cabin Up North.
We know that. You know that. But, clearly, not enough people in Michigan know that.
A recent survey commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber contains alarming findings about the perception some Michigan voters have toward higher education.
The chamber notes that a bachelor’s degree is the foundation for two-thirds of high-paying “hot jobs” that are expected to grow the most by 2030. Yet, just 27% of Michigan voters believe a college education is very important for landing a successful job in the state. And about the same number said a college degree is not important.
Meanwhile, nearly half of those surveyed — 49% — said a four-year college degree is not worth the money.
Our public universities in Michigan could certainly do more to control costs and increase efficiencies, and we are concerned about the impact of high levels of college debt on young people, but the positive, long-term financial impacts of a college degree are clear.
As the Pew Research Center noted just last year, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time workers ages 22-27 who held a bachelor’s degree earned a median wage of $52,000 in 2021. That compares with just $30,000 for those of the same age and with only a high school diploma.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for college graduates is consistently lower than for those with only a high school diploma.
In his story on the findings, Crain’s Detroit Business senior reporter David Eggert noted employers need a skilled workforce to fill in-demand, higher-paying jobs to compete in a global economy.
An analysis by Michigan Future Inc. found that nearly eight in 10 Michigan jobs that pay more than $64,000 are held by people with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
“This demand is just continuing to grow, and we need Michiganders to really understand the importance of having real skills,” Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said. “We don’t always think that a college degree is the right answer for everyone. … But clearly getting the public policy right requires people to understand how important this is for our economic future. Right now there’s a disconnect.”
Like Baruah, we’re not saying everyone must have a four-degree to succeed. But the evidence is clear that those who earn a college degree earn more. Those who choose not to pursue a four-year degree will still need additional technical training, whether through a trade school or community college, to put themselves in the best position to compete for high-paying jobs in the economy of today and tomorrow.
Michigan’s economic future is bright if we choose to seize the moment. One place we can start is by teaching everyone that some form of education past high school shouldn’t be considered an optional add-on.