Making Michigan a Leader in Adult Postsecondary Attainment Starts Here

With the Midwest’s lowest percentage of adults having a postsecondary credential, Michigan faces multiple challenges — and has less than seven years — to add more than 431,000 credential-holding adults to its workforce.

With the clock ticking, a comprehensive new report by The Michigan Center for Adult College Success examines what must be done to meet the state’s goal to increase the number of working-age adults with a skill certificate or college degree from 50.5% to 60% by 2030.

Adult Postsecondary Education in Michigan & Beyond” documents Michigan’s postsecondary landscape, noting 2.5 million adult Michiganders lack a credential, which contributes to pervasive poverty and demographic gaps. It examines barriers adults face in their education — notably time, cost and misperceptions about the return on investment. The report cites promising strategies and lays out a roadmap for reaching “Sixty by 30.”

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The report sets the stage for the next phase of work by The Michigan Center for Adult College Success, a statewide initiative launched this year by CEO alliance TalentFirst that oversees a multimillion-dollar fund to provide grants that support innovation in postsecondary enrollment and completion.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • Creating flexible modes of delivering learning and student support services
  • Providing supports to address basic needs
  • Guided pathways that clearly link to a better job and improved income
  • Employer partnerships to help place credentialed adult learners in well-paying careers
  • Increasing opportunities for credit for prior learning and skills adults have already learned
  • Leveraging high quality data systems to identify areas for improvement

“With an aging population and declining birth rate, Michigan can ill afford the additional competitive disadvantage of lower postsecondary attainment,” said TalentFirst President Kevin Stotts. “TalentFirst launched this initiative to meet the needs of our employers — and to open the door to good-paying jobs that await our adult workforce.”

Later this year, the Center will begin helping postsecondary institutions to research, design, fund, pilot and evaluate innovative programs to improve adult enrollment and completion, By next year, it will begin issuing Innovation Investment Award grants to support implementation of these improvements.

A partnership across sectors

The Center’s governing council — leaders from Kinexus, Macomb Community College, the Michigan Education Association, the Michigan Manufacturers Association, the state of Michigan’s Office of Sixty by 30, the Michigan Workforce Training and Education Collaborative, the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, the Small Business Association of Michigan, and TalentFirst — hailed the report as an important step forward:

Sarah Szurpicki, director of the state of Michigan’s Office of Sixty by 30: “We know the majority of good jobs today and on the horizon require more than a high school diploma. It’s imperative that we help Michigan families unlock the opportunities that come with postsecondary education – this offers bigger paychecks and financial freedoms to individuals, all while making sure Michigan’s businesses and economy are poised for success. The Center will play a key role in helping improve our educational ecosystem, and this report is a great starting point for the work ahead.”

Brian Calley, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan: “Small businesses across the state continue to struggle with a shortage of talent. The work the Center is embarking on to support adults in acquiring the skills and credentials they need to fill these great careers will have a significant impact closing this talent gap while providing Michiganders a better quality of life.”

Michigan Education Association President Chanda Madafferi: “Educators across Michigan are well aware of the challenges faced by adult learners trying to earn a degree or certificate, and we are committed to knocking down barriers and helping to create better opportunities for students of all ages. We look forward to working with the Center and other partners to help more adult learners get the education and skills they need to land great careers.”

Bill Rayl, executive director of Workforce Solutions for the Michigan Manufacturers Association: “Like many other sectors, Michigan’s manufacturing industry is struggling to find enough skilled talent and we can no longer afford to leave anyone on the sidelines. The Center’s work to address the barriers that adults face in obtaining the relevant credentials to fill these good paying jobs will improve the talent pipeline and help our employers find the talent they need.”

Jim Jacobs, president emeritus of Macomb Community College: “One significant issue Michigan faces is the lack of adults with postsecondary degrees. The Center’s report does a great job identifying the key barriers adults face going back to college. I deeply appreciate the Center’s commitment to partnering with community colleges and universities to address these barriers and support our institutions’ efforts to implement better systems to serve our adult learners.”

Amy Lee, Michigan Workforce Training and Education Collaborative president: “It will take strong partnerships to provide the supports adult learners need to successfully complete their educational journey. I am heartened to see The Center’s emphasis on collaboration between education providers, employers, and nonprofits to support adult learners in accessing and obtaining their postsecondary education.”

Chris Baldwin, senior fellow at the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement: “As outlined in the Center’s landscape analysis, demographic trends are forcing colleges and universities to look at growing new student populations. The Center can play a unique role by working alongside Michigan’s postsecondary institutions to attract and grow their adult student populations.”

Supporting state initiatives

Authorized and funded by the Legislature, the Center’s role is to complement state investments in postsecondary tuition support programs, such as Michigan Reconnect, which recently expanded with a temporary reduction in the age threshold, from 25 to 21, for tuition-free community college.

For these programs to succeed, they must be paired with adult learner-center strategies to improve enrollment and retention, said Jeremy Hendges, the Center’s executive director.

“Without a significant boost in retention and completion, these investments won’t deliver a return on investment,” Hendges said. “Instead, we’re more likely to see an increase in adults who have some college credits but still lack a credential.”

Michigan’s postsecondary system is unique in its decentralized structure, which encourages innovation but limits dissemination of proven methods, Hendges said. The Center is designed to fill that gap as the state’s primary resource for research, support and best practices for increasing adult enrollment and completion of postsecondary credentials and degrees, he said.

“The Center is eager to partner with community colleges and universities across Michigan,” Hendges said. “We have a common objective: to help more adults obtain the credentials they need to fill the good-paying jobs that are available today and into the future, so they can thrive and live their American Dream.”

Get involved: Contact Jeremy Hendges, executive director of the Michigan Center for Adult College Success, at j.hendges@talentfirst.net .

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