Opinion: Michigan has the potential to provide free community college to all high school graduates

During my recent visit to the Livonia Career Technical Center, I had the pleasure of meeting Layla, a 16-year-old high school student with big dreams of attending college. Despite her slight shyness, Layla exuded a remarkable level of self-possession as she shared her concerns about the high cost of college education for her family. As we strolled through the vibrant and welcoming halls of the technical center, it became evident that Layla’s struggles were not unique, and that we need more young voices like hers to help shape education policy.

All children in Michigan must have access to a high-quality education, regardless of their financial background. It is crucial to ensure that every child receives an excellent education that prepares them for a successful future.

To prepare the younger generation for the challenges of tomorrow, it is imperative that they receive ample time in educational institutions and consistent support throughout their academic journey. Achieving an excellent and unbiased education system requires a strong foundation, starting from an early age and continuing until every student is equipped to face the future. One way to ensure this is by extending public education by two years beyond high school, which can significantly contribute towards their success.

During her State of the State speech, Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the Michigan Guarantee initiative. The initiative aims to provide free pre-K education to all 4-year-olds and free community college tuition to all high school graduates. If the Michigan Guarantee is implemented successfully, Michigan will become the first state in the US to offer universal access to pre-K and community college education at no cost to students. The initiative has the potential to revolutionize Michigan’s education system, boost family incomes, and improve the state’s economic prospects.

It’s crystal clear that enrolling children in pre-K programs leads to significant improvements in their reading and math scores. Not only that, but it also increases their chances of graduating high school, pursuing higher education, and earning a higher income in the future. In addition to benefiting the children, parents who send their kids to pre-K save an average of $10,000 annually and develop stronger connections with their communities.

Michigan Guarantee should encompass the entire K-12 education journey. Our state should take the responsibility of preparing students with the necessary skills and competencies to excel in both work and life. It is not just about adding more hours to the school day, but rather providing customized education to meet every student’s unique needs and doubling down on their learning. Our focus should be on teaching critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, citizenship, communication, and connectivity to enable them to adapt effortlessly to our rapidly changing future.

Postsecondary education is just as crucial as the early formative years of a child’s academic journey. However, not all students may opt for a four-year degree due to various reasons such as family responsibilities, financial constraints, lack of interest, or insufficient time. To address this, we propose making community college tuition-free for every high school graduate in Michigan. This initiative will enable young adults to acquire the necessary skills and training required to secure well-paying and sought-after jobs in industries that are vital to the state’s future.

The evidence is indisputable. Graduates with an associate’s degree or skills certificate from a community college in Michigan earn $23,000 more per year than those who only completed high school, one year after graduation. It has been forecasted that the majority of jobs in Michigan’s future, including those in the knowledge economy, will demand post-secondary education. Therefore, as Michigan vies with other states, a competent workforce will be indispensable for driving economic growth.

The state of Michigan is currently experiencing a wave of momentum that we must maintain. Over the past few years, our state Legislature has been proactive in taking measures to enhance opportunities, eliminate obstacles to success, and reduce costs for both students and families. Let’s continue to build on this positive momentum and keep moving forward.

Let’s face it, it’s high time for a significant leap forward in providing a better future for our upcoming generations. As we witness state lawmakers deliberating on the allocation of funds for the upcoming year, education must take the forefront of their priorities. We owe it to our children and their children to ensure that they are set up for success.

As Layla stepped up to the podium, she passionately urged the policymakers to fulfill the Michigan Guarantee. Her heartfelt plea was for the betterment of countless young individuals in Michigan, and she implored everyone to seize this opportunity with their utmost dedication and effort.

Michigan can become the pioneer state in providing free public education for all, from the early years to the career-preparation years of our children’s lives.

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MBS Staff
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