News: State Policy & Advocacy

Grantee’s Push for Attainment Goal Pays Off in Michigan

Thursday, February 14, 2019  
Posted by: Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate
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Michigan College Access Network's executive director Brandy Johnson speaks at the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable Talent Summit in January. Photo courtesy of MCAN.

The Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (MIHEART) hosted its first Talent Summit last month to discuss the content of its Total Talent Report with the state’s new policymakers. The report illustrates the urgent need for an increase in the percentage of Michiganders with a postsecondary degree or credential and recommends that Michigan join the 41 other states that have adopted a statewide attainment goal.

On Tuesday, in her first State of the State address, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a new statewide attainment goal for Michigan. Specifically, she set the state’s sights on 60 percent of the population ages 16-64 attaining a postsecondary degree or credential by 2030.

As depicted in the Total Talent Report, this would require a 16 percentage-point jump in little more than a decade, a feat Gov. Whitmer recognized is ambitious given the current landscape.

“When you’re at 44 percent, it is aggressive,” Whitmer said during her address. “But it is doable, because great expectations lead to great results.”

MIHEART is a group sponsored and led by the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), an NCAN member and advocacy grantee. The coalition consists of government officials as well as leaders from the business, military, law enforcement, and philanthropic communities. MIHEART has been primarily focused on advocating for more resources to be put toward improving the talent pipeline in Michigan.

At the summit a few weeks ago, Michigan’s postsecondary attainment was at the top of the agenda, according to MCAN’s executive director, Brandy Johnson.

"The attendees heard loud and clear from nearly 20 cross-sector representatives the immediate work that needs to be done to increase postsecondary attainment rates and the talent pipeline in Michigan,” Johnson said. “We look forward to working with Governor Whitmer, her administration, and all legislators to advance this critical agenda for Michigan’s future.”

The case for dedicating public resources to such a mission is simple: Just 47.6 percent of Americans ages 25-64 hold a degree or credential, while 99 percent of the jobs created since the Great Recession have been occupied by individuals with at least some college experience.
There is a fair amount of variation in structure among attainment goals across states. A strong attainment goal, according to Lumina Foundation, is “challenging, quantifiable, addresses achievement gaps for underrepresented populations, includes a target date, is codified in a manner to influence postsecondary education policy and practice, and has broad stakeholder support.”
Statewide attainment goals are featured in NCAN’s State Policy Toolkit, which highlights exemplar policy and programs as well as reports to help organizations execute their advocacy strategy. For example, the Toolkit highlights Oregon’s House Bill 2311, which established an attainment goal for the Beaver State. The bill includes several of Lumina’s suggested elements along with a concerted effort to align the state’s attainment goal with the needs of its workforce.
While the means by which Gov. Whitmer’s administration will pursue its goal have not yet been outlined publicly, her speech also included the announcement of two new financial aid programs, thereby indicating a serious prioritization of investing in higher education.
In two months, MCAN will hold its third annual advocacy day, during which college access and success organizations from across Michigan will convene in Lansing to weigh in on the forthcoming developments of the new governor’s robust higher education agenda. The group’s chief objective will be to encourage legislators to adopt a budget that will provide enough support for higher education to make the governor’s attainment goal a reality.