Diversity matters to Michigan's economy
Op-Ed for The Michigan Chronicle, May 28-June 3, 2008
Earlier this spring I spoke at Detroit's Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, as part of a forum hosted by this publication. Many of the engaged and vibrant people I spoke with that evening were concerned about the future of our state and its citizens.
Whether in the heart of Detroit or on the steps of Mackinac Island's Grand hotel, my message then and now is straightforward: If this state is to prosper and take a leadership role in the knowledge-based economy, we must ensure more of our citizens obtain the best possible education beyond high school. A highly educated, diverse workforce is among the most critical resources our state will need to compete in the global marketplace, where knowledge-based industries are essential to success.
We cannot afford to leave anyone behind. Yet Michigan is still well below most other states in the percentage of the total population with four-year degrees.
Our citizenry and our policymakers share the vision of a state with a broad range of hightech companies in fields such as alternative energy and nanotechnology. We believe we can make enormous strides in advanced manufacturing based on our traditional strengths. We hope to lift ourselves out of Michigan's economic crisis on the shoulders of university research and development, which sparks new companies and new products and which draws existing business to our state. In fact, the University of Michigan has formed an alliance with Michigan State University and Wayne State University focused on these very issues: to accelerate economic development by harnessing the collective strength of our powerful university-based R&D.
All of these aspirations require a skilled and diverse workforce. Our transforming economy brings with it new ways of doing business. The state's workforce needs the best possible higher education, and must know how to work effectively across racial, ethnic and social backgrounds.
In the wake of Proposal 2 banning affirmative action, I asked our university community to develop ways to maintain and expand diversity on campus within the parameters of the new law. In the past 18 months, we have implemented a range of programs and initiatives, including our new Center for Educational Outreach and Academic Success. The Center's mission is to strengthen partnerships between U-M and K-12 school systems and communities across the state.
We learned a great deal from peer institutions in states where affirmative action was no longer available, including the need to develop robust pipelines between higher education and the K-12 system. When we work in tandem with our K-12 colleagues, we can promote academic achievement, improve educational opportunities, and continue to identify and reemit a diverse student body representative of all Michigan communities.
Our Center for Educational Outreach and Academic Success will work to connect our resources with communities, focusing on longterm partnerships that can strengthen over time. We will work with students, parents, teachers, community leaders, and school administrators in these efforts.
We also are working closer with all 31 community and tribal colleges across our state, from nearby Wayne County Community College to Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College in the Upper Peninsula and Lake Michigan College in western Michigan. We are encouraging community college students to continue their education at U-M, and are strengthening our transfer programs in hopes of seeing more oi these students on our campus.
The leaders of the University of Michigan will continue to do personal outreach as well. The University's vice presidents have joined me in calling prospective students, talking with their parents, and sharing the message that a college degree is absolutely essential in today's economy.
I believe our state must have a collective aspiration for every one of its young people to achieve some form of secondary education, whether it is a community college, specialized technical program, a degree from the University of Michigan, or one of many other excellent universities in this state. Our citizens deserve a high quality of life and economic security. We can help our state's youngest citizens understand that these hopes and dreams are realized through education, and we can provide the support necessary for them to achieve their dreams.
And when we accomplish that, we will create the diverse workforce to fuel our state's economic revival and enduring prosperity.