Detroit Regional Chamber > Education & Talent > Sandy K. Baruah: Make the ‘K – 12 + 2’ Approach Michigan’s Next Education Step

Sandy K. Baruah: Make the ‘K – 12 + 2’ Approach Michigan’s Next Education Step

May 23, 2024

The Detroit News
May 22, 2024
Sandy K. Baruah

As one of the largest Chambers of Commerce in the nation, the Detroit Regional Chamber hears frequently from business members about the quality and depth of education in Michigan. In an ever-competitive global economy, the companies we represent are engaged in an intense war for talent, and these companies — and our state — cannot succeed without a workforce with the right skills and education.

Sandy K. Baruah poses at the Detroit Regional Chamber's headquarters

Photo credit: The Detroit News

Eighty-five percent of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree can support a family of three compared to only 25% of jobs that require less than a college degree. By 2031, 72% of jobs will require a postsecondary education — and in Michigan today, only 53% of adults have a two-or four-year degree or hold a skilled credential. We have work to do to meet the needs of businesses and citizens.

We all know people for whom a traditional college was simply not the right pathway, including my son. While college may not be for everyone, I urge business leaders and policymakers to endorse the concept of a “K – 12 + 2” approach to education. “K – 12 + 2” simply means that Michigan needs to set the expectation that every Michiganian should complete formalized training beyond high school, such as a skilled certificate, an associate degree, or, ideally, a four-year college degree. Just as society recognized the increased complexity of the world following World War II by subsequently moving from a seventh grade to a 12th-grade standard, we need to make a similar cultural shift today.

The Legislature has the opportunity now to bolster this shift. Legislation is pending that would extend the existing Michigan Reconnect program by providing similar “last dollar” support (tuition support after all available grants are applied) to graduating high school students. Given the recent creation of the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, this is a low-cost way to send the message across the state that the first two years of college in Michigan are available for free. This will send a strong message that the culture of learning and education is critical to all of us.

The days when lush jobs were available to those with just a high school degree and some additional training are long over. Today’s jobs and careers become more complex and technical every passing day. Those without current skills will find it increasingly difficult to live successful lives and support their families and communities. Businesses looking for talent will be forced to look outside Michigan, exacerbating a negative cycle.

While we hear about stories of outrageous college debt and degree holders working coffee counters, the simple truth is for most families, community college can be accessed tuition-free thanks to both state and federal programs. With the myriad support programs available, the average college debt of a graduating student at Wayne State University, for example, is just under $25,000 for the 53% of students who graduate with student loan debt. The balance of Wayne State University students graduate with no debt.  In reality, for most students going to colleges, higher education can be more affordable than they think, and with college graduates earning 84% more ($1.2 million) over their careers than their high school-only counterparts, it’s a good deal.

Establishing a higher education culture will not be easy and will take more than one thing.  Certainly, the quality of our existing K-12 system must be improved dramatically, and colleges must control their costs and ensure better success rates. But, establishing a “K – 12 + 2” approach can play a significant role in advancing this much-needed culture shift.