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Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroit Policy Conference > Panel: Aligning the Business and Workforce Community With Higher Education to Grow Michigan’s Economy

Panel: Aligning the Business and Workforce Community With Higher Education to Grow Michigan’s Economy

January 12, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Higher institutions and the business community must intentionally partner to create a productive and effective pipeline. 
  • Preparing students for the workforce should start young – not just during and after college. 
  • Everyone has a role to play in increasing funding for higher education, from the state to colleges and universities themselves. 

View the session recording below.

During the 2024 Detroit Policy Conference, Henry Ford College President Russ Kavalhuna and Ferris State University President Bill Pink joined Acuitas and University of Michigan Board of Regents’ Sarah Hubbard and Small Business Association of Michigan’s Brian Calley on a panel moderated by Michigan Radio’s Zoe Clark to discuss the Growing Michigan Together Council’s Higher Education recommendations.

Intentionality Between Higher Education and the Business Community

According to Pink, a Co-chair of the council’s Higher Education workgroup, the council sector recommendations were intentionally developed to ensure alignment between higher education institutions and the business and workforce community. 

“[It is] so that a student doesn’t think about ‘once I’m done with college,’” Pink said. “It’s ‘while I’m in college, I’m already understanding and making connections with good companies with good paying jobs’ … so that it’s not something new at the end of college – they’ve been doing it all along.” 

Kavalhuna, who was also a Co-chair of the High Education workgroup, took this idea a step further, stating that this alignment must begin with a PreK-12 system with clear pathways to postsecondary education. 

“If you don’t see yourself in university, you need to be able to get community college credit in your last four years of high school. Then, when you get that, you need to have a clear path to a leading university,” Kavalhuna said. “Once you knock off that bachelor’s degree…you have businesses that will guarantee the jobs. That is the intentionality we can build in the state.” 

Calley agreed, pointing to the Growing Michigan Together Council report’s overarching theme of creating “a system with more connections, a real pipeline” of students who are well prepared and well connected throughout their educational journey. This becomes even more critical as the data shows that the pipeline gets smaller as students move through it.  

“If we have 122,000 kids that are 9th graders today, and we say that eight years from now, how many of them will have a four-year degree or a recognized credential? That number is actually about 20%,” Calley said. “If you go through, 85% will graduate high school, and about half of them in the first six months will go on to college, and then at that point, how many will make it through college in four years?” 

Increasing Funding for Higher Education

While developing an early relationship between business and higher education institutions is a key element of the Higher Education Workgroup’s recommendations, developing long-term solutions for funding is equally explored.  

According to Hubbard, funding is “critically important,” and higher education is “woefully underfunded at the state level.” However, she stressed that lack of funding does not solely fall on the state; higher education plays a role in securing funding.  

“We really have to communicate the value proposition to our policymakers and explain to them funding higher education should be such an important proposition,” she said. “We’re just not always speaking the same language as those who are appropriate the funding. This is a two-way conversation, and we have to get back to that.” 

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