College, trade school education should be encouraged

In his budget proposal sent to the state Legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder, Republican of the Great Lakes State, requested funds for a 6.1 percent hike in aid to universities. In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, asked for $34 million so that he could waive the cost of tuition for community college.

Gov. Rick Snyder has done well in terms of economic policy. He reformed the state’s tax on businesses in 2011. He has made numerous trade missions to China, Japan, Germany, Italy and other countries. And his betrayal on the issue of labor policy aside, he has overseen an improvement in the state’s economy.

The state’s unemployment rate in January 2011, the year Snyder took office, was 11 percent. Since his three or so years in office, the state unemployment rate has fallen to 8.4 percent. This is above the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent.

According to the Tax Policy Center in its “State Economic Monitor,” earnings have increased, and so have housing prices. The state’s economy is also healthier according to the state coincident indices, a metric designed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Economic development in the state has hastened. But to make sure that pace does not slow, Snyder should look to Tennessee for inspiration.

Education policy has been a weak area for the Snyder administration, but Haslam presents a way forward. This way forward also pairs nicely with the expansion in publicly funded pre-K education that Snyder discussed in his State of the State Address.

“We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state,” said Haslam in an interview with The New York Times. “College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force.”

And it is a competitive workforce that is needed. On one of his trade missions Snyder visited Germany, where I had hoped he’d learn a lesson from the Germans. Germany has a system of apprenticeships where students are not always shown the way to the best university. Many students are encouraged to develop a trade, a valued trade that will earn them a steady income. The country’s unemployment rate is 5.1 percent.

Our state should adopt the German model.

In a study conducted by the American Institute for Research and Matrix Knowledge Group, the result, reported by the Pew Research Center on the States, showed students who earn an associate’s degree or occupational certificate often earn more in their first year out of college than those with four year college degrees.

“Short-term credentials, such as two-year degrees and technical certificates, can be worth more than bachelor’s degrees in early years,” reported Pew Research Center on the States. “The study found that in Texas, those who graduated with technical associate’s degrees earned over $11,000 more on average in their first year after graduation than those with four-year degrees.”

Economic mobility in the U.S. has been reduced not only because of income inequality, where 95 percent of the income gains flow to the wealthiest 1 percent, but a chasm has also opened up between those who furthered their education after high school and those who did not. The unemployment rate for those with a college degree is currently 12.2 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those with a bachelor’s degree or more education, the unemployment rate is 3.8 percent.

Community colleges often serve the underserved and provide people with a rung on the ladder of socioeconomic opportunity.

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