Partnerships key to helping Michigan
Op-Ed in The Grand Rapids Press, April 10, 2010
Michigan’s universities are doing more than ever to stimulate our state’s economy, and more than ever we need strong partners to help Michigan prosper.
As The Grand Rapids Press has editorialized in its Michigan 10.0 series, education is the key to our state’s economic transformation. Colleges and universities generate jobs and discoveries, and produce talented graduates who revitalize our communities.
To understand why states such as Virginia, Connecticut and Maryland have high incomes, while Mississippi, Kentucky and Idaho languish, look for the number of college degrees. There is a direct correlation between education and prosperity, and the state of Michigan is steadily slipping.
The Legislature is currently setting the state budget and lawmakers have recommended a 3 percent cut to higher education. On one hand this is understandable, given Michigan’s fiscal straits, and yet it comes at a time when there is near-universal agreement that higher education is critical to our state’s economic future.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm herself put a fine point on this when, in appointing the Cherry Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth, she stated: “If we want a high-performance economy, we must work now to improve the strength, depth, and adaptability of our colleges and universities.”
Strong partners make the work of our universities more effective. Working together, we can better fuel our state’s emerging knowledge-based economy.
Legislative support has always been critical, and Michigan’s universities will continue to press for solid appropriations, yet we must look to others to help us advance higher education for the good of our state. At the University of Michigan, we are grateful for collaborations throughout West Michigan that strengthen educational and research opportunities that improve the state’s well-being.
We see this with students and the financial aid support they receive from donors. Members of the Ralph G. Conger family of Grand Rapids, for example, support a quartet of scholarships that have made a U-M education possible for nearly 600 students in this decade alone. When U-M closed the books on our successful $3.2 billion “Michigan Difference” fund drive, donors from Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties were responsible for nearly $65 million. This is a tremendous investment in our state that will pay dividends for decades.
We benefit from partners such as the Van Andel Institute, which along with Michigan State, Wayne State and the Michigan Department of Community Health is developing the Michigan Neonatal Bank to support research about the genetics of childhood and adult-onset diseases.
Research supported by local leaders such as Peter Wege and Michael Jandernoa opens new doors to understanding environmental sustainability and the life sciences — work that directly affects our quality of life in Michigan.
The University of Michigan is stronger for our state because of West Michigan’s community colleges, which have joined in an initiative to see that more students continue their education after earning associate’s degrees. Since we began this partnership in 2006, the number of Grand Rapids Community College students transferring to Ann Arbor has doubled. In the same spirit, Grand Valley State University is guaranteeing space for U-M graduates to pursue master’s-level work in GVSU’s distinguished occupational therapy program at the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences in Grand Rapids.
These are powerful partnerships that lead to more college graduates — more talent, creativity and innovation — for our communities. These growing alliances with individuals, foundations, corporations and sister universities are diverse, significant and, increasingly, essential. Higher education today must abandon the ivory tower for more collegial confines. Academe is renowned for its “publish or perish” mindset, but our new approach must be “partner or perish.”
Collaboration is our future. Universities excel at creating solutions that drive progress and prosperity. By drawing upon our diverse and unique strengths, and reaching out to build deeper connections with our communities, we will continue to reshape Michigan for the 21st century.
Mary Sue Coleman is president of the University of Michigan.