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Letter to the Editor: Education is Michigan’s best bet for future

From The Detroit News 

By Dr. Rose Bellanca

June 12, 2013

As president of Washtenaw Community College, I could not have been more proud to see the passion and energy put forth in the platform of education at last month’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

I wholeheartedly agree with Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent editorial titled, “Talented Workers Are Michigan’s Most Important Resource.” He’s absolutely right when he says a healthy economy isn’t about numbers – it’s about people.

The focus on ensuring that higher education is both affordable and accessible to Michigan’s students is an important priority for us all, but we must go further. It is also vital that we prepare Michigan residents for 21st century job opportunities, even as we work with business and industry in a spirit of collaboration to better understand their talent needs and to find ways to meet them. Around the state, educators are embracing Snyder’s perspective that education is the key to Michigan’s economy, and are holding forward-thinking discussions about how to best leverage and develop our educational assets to ensure that Michigan’s students are ready to succeed.

Here at Washtenaw Community College, we recently received a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative. This grant gave WCC the seed money to develop new online and blended classes for the ever-evolving Information Technology industry – and establish a new dynamic and inter-connected learning environment. This program is designed for every type of WCC student, including those who are changing careers and need retraining.

At the Mackinac Policy Conference, Snyder also outlined the importance of doing a better job of making the supply and demand connection. We recognize this at WCC and through our work with Ann Arbor SPARK, a business incubator, we have initiated and cultivated relationships with many of the businesses in Washtenaw County. We meet regularly with them to learn what skill sets are needed to fill their jobs, and they benefit by hiring WCC graduates who can easily assimilate into their businesses and are capable of immediately making contributions that benefit not just our local community, but regional and global communities as well. These relationships also help to increase the chance that our graduates not only get hired in Michigan, but stay in Michigan to help reduce the ‘brain drain’ the state has experienced in recent years.

I was delighted to speak with many colleagues at the conference about the unique value the community college system offers in the realm of higher education. Community college students often pursue work and learning simultaneously, and most are seeking to build skills with labor market value. Everything we do is with an eye toward value creation for the economy and society as a whole. We also work with K-12 educators to ensure that young students are offered the opportunity to access college-level classes before they graduate from high school, as well as work closely with our four-year university partners to ensure a smooth transition for WCC students who move on to continue their education. There are truly no dead ends at a community college.

At WCC, we remain committed to continuing to collaborate to meet the needs of our students, businesses and our community. Together, we will help create a strong and healthy future that will enhance the quality of life for all of us.

Dr. Rose Bellanca, President, Washtenaw Community College