Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals
Sep. 25, 2006
It’s a wonderful time to be in northern Michigan because of the spectacular fall colors—colors that bring thousands of visitors to this region for weekend getaways.
I want to tell you a quick story about our splendid forests and what they mean for our state’s economy.
One hundred years ago, northern Michigan looked a little like the face of the moon. The lumber companies that had made Michigan the country’s greatest producer of timber in the 19th century were gone, having laid waste to acre upon acre of pine forests. What wasn’t destroyed by the axe was ravaged by fire.
Into this physical void, and the need to help re-invent Michigan’s economy, came the science of forestry and a University of Michigan professor named Filibert Roth.
Professor Roth was a graduate of the University and established our first classes in forestry. He wore a second hat as Michigan’s first state forest warden, and established an experimental tree nursery near Higgins Lake.
In its first year, that nursery sprouted 600,000 seedlings. Over the next 30 years, it would produce 22 million trees to be planted throughout our state—trees that today serve as a beacon for campers, hunters, hikers and fans of fall color tours.
At the time of Filibert Roth’s phenomenal work, the president of the University of Michigan observed “the gravest economic problems in our state,” and the fact it was the University’s role to be of service to Michigan.
A century has passed, and once again we are seeing the stripping of Michigan’s economy, this time with the continual loss of manufacturing jobs, particularly in the auto industry. Not too long ago, the path to security in the middle class was a good, lifelong job in the auto industry. We know those days are as gone as the towering timber of the 19th century.
The new path to financial security, in this day of globalization and information technology, is education. And higher education must play a leadership role to ensure that more of Michigan young people are earning bachelor’s and graduate degrees.
I want the next Filibert Roth to come from your high school to our University, with a vision for reinvigorating Michigan’s economy. Together, as educators, we will prepare the students who will become tomorrow’s leaders.
We have our work cut out for us.
Just this month, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education issued its state-by-state report cards. Michigan received the kind that you want to doctor a little before showing it to your parents.
As a state, we scored poorly on enrolling students in college, with only 38 percent of our young people in universities and colleges. Countries such as Iceland, Poland and the Slovak Republic do a better job of graduating students from college than we do here in Michigan. We are losing ground in keeping our state competitive at a time when our economy—both here in Michigan and at the national level—demands educated, skilled college graduates. The Michigan economy of tomorrow will need college graduates prepared to work in information services, Internet and computing industries, life sciences and health care.
I served on the Cherry Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth. As commissioners we made it clear that we are at risk as a state if we do not commit more to preparing our high school students and opening the doors of our colleges and universities. We simply cannot ignore the economic success factor that comes with a college degree.
We’re seeing the reality of this in Washtenaw County. Google is establishing a major office in Ann Arbor and will create some 1,000 new jobs. Your graduates and my graduates helped make this decision possible. Google said it wanted access to an educated workforce, and we provided it.
We need this to happen throughout Michigan—in Port Huron and Marquette and Benton Harbor. We need to provide the talent and the innovation that tomorrow’s economy demands.
Of course, none of our efforts at helping to diversify Michigan’s economy is possible without the lifeblood of our university: great students. And great students at U-M are not possible without great high schools, and the teachers and counselors who encourage them.
We want your graduates and we want U-M to be a welcoming, nurturing, and inspiring place for them. That means we absolutely must widen our doors so that students from all backgrounds can take advantage of what we have to offer. A great public university can do nothing less.
I want your students and their parents to know that a U-M education is extraordinarily strong and it is accessible, regardless of family finances.
If I leave you with one thought today, it is this: the University of Michigan is affordable. I am telling you in hopes that you will tell your teachers, your counselors, your students and their families. If a Michigan student is accepted to our university, we will make certain the financial resources exist so he or she can enroll and be on campus in the fall.
Last year we launched a program called M-PACT, which expanded financial aid to our neediest of undergraduates from the state of Michigan. More than 3,100 students received M-PACT money, on top of their existing financial aid packages.
This year, we are increasing those grants for the lowest-income students, all but eliminating any loans in their financial aid packages. Studies tell us that the thought of leaving college with debt is an invisible but very real barrier that keeps low-income students from achieving in college. I want U-M students to be thinking about political science, art history and molecular biology—not about the loans that await them after graduation. The M-PACT program helps to erase that fear.
Financial aid is not limited to low-income students. Our latest figures show that four of every five students from Michigan—your graduates—are receiving financial aid.
Along with increasing financial aid, we are expanding our outreach to prospective students. With the support of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, we are launching a new program to encourage more students at Michigan community colleges to transfer to U-M.
We have an impressive network of community colleges in our state, and at U-M we want to attract those high-achieving students who want to continue toward their bachelor’s degrees. Working with 31 different community and tribal colleges, we want to quadruple the number of transfer students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds.
One more way we are broadening access to the University is by breaking down language barriers and connecting better with Latino Americans. Two years ago, we launched En Español, our Spanish-language website, and it has been a fantastic success with students, parents and the media.
En Español is particularly important to communities on the west side of our state and in southwestern Detroit. For Latino students who are the first in their family to attend college, providing admissions materials in Spanish is immensely helpful to their parents and grandparents in understanding what the U-M can offer. And by sharing Spanish-language news releases with Latino publications in Michigan and beyond, we are letting families know all that is possible at U-M.
Educational quality and access are vitally important to Michigan parents. We only need look at Kalamazoo, a community that has made a profound statement about the value of education with the Kalamazoo Promise and all that it offers students. And we are seeing how it can help transform a community.
To transform our state, we need more graduates trained in math and science. As educators, we all know that America is not producing enough college graduates to replace the scientists and engineers that will retire by the end of this decade.
At Michigan, we do math and science very well. And our School of Education is leveraging that expertise to train tomorrow’s teachers—educators who know how to effectively teach their subject matter and who understand the diversity of America’s classrooms.
Deborah Loewenberg Ball is our new, energetic dean of education, and if she was standing here she would absolutely wow you with everything our faculty and students are doing, particularly in math and science education.
We actively look for students who want to be teachers, and long before they reach U-M. Working with our biggest college, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the School of Education reaches out to high schools and community colleges to find those prospective teachers of math and science.
You know better than anyone how in need we are of good teachers of math and science. And with the state’s new curriculum requirements, there is even greater pressure for those teachers, particularly in math.
We’re conducting fascinating research into how students learn math and how teachers can better teach it. The key is not so much in teaching skills, although those are essential, but in genuinely understanding the subject matter.
Dean Ball is a national expert on math education, and a few months ago she came to our Board of Regents meeting and conducted a little experiment. Actually, she gave all of us a math test. She asked us to multiply 49 and 25. The answer is 1,225. But students reach very different answers, anywhere from 325 to 1,485, and understanding how they get to those answers is a lesson in truly understanding the subject you are teaching. It was a fascinating, interactive experiment—if not a little humbling—and one that still has our regents coming up to the dean and saying, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”
Along with producing teachers of math and science, the University is compelled to educate more scientists, engineers and researchers.
The Sputnik generation—my generation—is nearing retirement, and the next generation of scientists and researchers must be as diverse as our nation. Our state and our country need many more minorities and women to join these ranks, or we will be out-paced and out-performed in the global arena. And that diversity will not happen in the workforce unless it happens at our universities with your students.
We need to engage them early. Faculty from our School of Education continually look for ways to develop innovative curriculum materials for middle school science classes. Education Professor Joe Krajcik works with Detroit teachers on coursework that really appeals to seventh- and eighth-graders. They teach science by thinking like, well, seventh- and eighth-graders. Teachers share their knowledge of science by answering questions like “Why do I have to wear a helmet?” or “How can good friends make me sick?”
The result of this innovative curriculum has been a significant improvement in students’ achievement scores on the state science tests.
We continue to feed that interest at Michigan. I was in Lansing last week talking with high school students and their parents about the value of a U-M education. One parent stood up to tell me about her daughter, Rita Lewis—a graduate of Lansing Everett High School who is now at Michigan. Rita is a bright, engaged African-American woman who wants to go to medical school. Both she and her mother were praising our WISE program—Women in Science and Engineering. Rita was valedictorian of her high school class, and the WISE program was what convinced her to choose Michigan over the University of Chicago, because of the opportunities it offers young women looking to become scientists, doctors and engineers.
I can’t talk about diversity in our classrooms and diversity in our workforce without mentioning the so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. It is really a civil wrongs initiative, because it will rob our students of programs like WISE, and that will translate into a tremendous loss of talent for the state of Michigan.
We know that affirmative action works, and the U.S. Supreme Court provided us with moderate guidelines that we follow in our admissions process. We know from experience and from extensive social science research that a diverse academic community has many, many benefits. Diversity leads to a better teaching and learning environment, more effective problem-solving, and more inspired creativity.
I’m certain you see this in your schools. Students learn better in a diverse class. The teaching environment is more enlightening and the discussion is livelier.
I feel strongly about working hard to educate Michigan citizens about the serious implications of MCRI because of its potential outcomes. For example, if approved by voters, MCRI would prohibit our highly successful efforts to recruit women faculty in science and engineering—just at a time when our country needs all the talented science professionals we can get!
If you have colleagues in California, then you know what a ban on affirmative action is doing to that state. It has been a decade since affirmative action was banned as an admissions tool for California’s colleges and universities and the ramifications are staggering. California—a state that is the most diverse in this country and which represents the fifth-largest economy in the world—is educating fewer and fewer underrepresented minority students, at a time when its citizenry is growing more and more diverse.
Today marks the start of the academic year at UCLA. When students begin their classes and look around them, they will find only 96 African-Americans in the freshman class. Ninety-six black students—2 percent of the freshman class -- at a leading research university, located in our nation’s second-largest city.
I urge you to share success stories about your students and how their diversity makes our society stronger.
Because I guarantee you, regardless of whether this flawed initiative passes or fails in Michigan, its organizers will move on to another state, and we cannot allow the scenario unfolding in California to be repeated elsewhere.
As I said at the beginning, we have much to do to help provide Michigan with creative, motivated graduates who will determine our great state’s future.
As a university, we cannot do this alone.
We want your students. Tell us everything you can about them, because the more we know about their careers as students, the more likely we are to accept them. Our admissions counselors work very hard at finding ways to accept students, not not accept them. Test scores, personal recommendations, class rankings, individual achievements, life stories—they are all important and informative to our admissions staff.
And we want your ideas. They are tremendously vital to us, and they make us a better university. When the superintendent of Ypsilanti schools told us he wanted to show middle school students the joy and fascination of science, we went to work. The School of Education designed a two-week summer institute that brought students to our campus and exposed them to research scientists and the laboratories they work in.
Tomorrow’s great scientist or inspiring math teacher may well have been in that Institute. We could not have built this program without the involvement of Ypsilanti teachers and principals. Rather, it was such as success this past summer that we are looking to expand the Science Institute to other school districts.
Please tell us what you need, be it from our admissions office or our schools and colleges. Deborah Ball, our dean of education, has a wonderful website that allows you to contact her directly with your ideas and your needs. In fact, her school is in the process of creating an educational leadership center for superintendents and principals, and would love for you to help her think about what the center should offer.
Ted Spencer, our director of undergraduate admissions, is with me today and is always eager to talk with you. And I always want to hear from principals, teachers and students about what the University of Michigan can do for them.
A century ago, through the hard work of alumni like Filibert Roth, the University of Michigan helped the state of Michigan through tough economic times by planting trees that spawned the tourism industry.
Today, by working together as educators committed to our students and our state, we will grow leaders for the 21st century.