THE BLOG
02/08/2013 09:57 am ET Updated Apr 10, 2013

Why Governor Snyder Is Wrong About College Access

Elections are amazing things.

For some reason, I thought of an address Michigan Governor Rick Snyder gave in front of the West Michigan Policy Forum last fall. He reflected on the national effort to make a four-year college education accessible to more Americans by saying he thought the country had "sorta messed up."

At the time he gave the speech, there was a shortage of skilled trade workers, and a great deal of media coverage about the lack of jobs available to recent college graduates. This apparent mismatch of supply and demand was too much for the governor to take, so he summed up the efforts of the college access movement of the last four decades in four simple words: "How dumb is that?"

And that got me thinking:

I thought about how last year's national unemployment rate for people with bachelor's degrees was 4.5 percent, while the unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma -- including those in the skilled trades -- was 8.3 percent.

I thought about how workers with bachelor's degrees bring home more pay compared to workers with a high school diploma -- $414 more every week.

I thought about how school counselors don't "send" a student anywhere, because post-secondary advising is based on the needs and interests of the individual student, not on the predetermined assumptions of the counselor, the shifting needs of the marketplace, or anyone else for that matter.

I thought about how college readiness isn't about "making" a student go to college, but preparing each student to be as successful as possible if they choose to go, and how that preparation in higher learning skills -- critical thinking, analysis, evaluation, social responsibility -- might come in handy if a student forgoes college to work with, say, heavy machinery.

I thought about how college counseling provides students with information on a host of post-secondary options--including technical training and not going to college--that helps all students, regardless of where their post-secondary path takes them.

I thought about how Governor Snyder's predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, understood all of this, and how her insights supported the creation of the Michigan College Access Network, which has raised the academic prospects and college success levels of students in Michigan's most underserved areas (I should know; I'm on MCAN's board of directors.)

I compared those achievements to Governor Snyder's plan to realign Michigan's schools to meet the state's job demand curve, and I wondered if he knows the difference between training and education -- or if he understands how much of our current economic woes are due to financiers who were trained to do their jobs, but not educated to do them with integrity.

I thought about how the last 40 years of the college access movement led to a 36 percent increase in college-bound women between 2001 and 2010, as well as increases of 58 percent and 78 percent by blacks and Hispanics during the same time period -- for four-year colleges.

I wondered if Governor Snyder has any idea that his criticism of the college access movement -- the movement that led to these gains -- awakens echoes of the elitism college access is meant to erase.

I tried to recall how someone was put in charge of education reform whose only teaching experience was at The University of Michigan, a school that, evidently, isn't for everyone.

And that's when I remembered -- elections are amazing things. They don't make you smarter; they just provide a bigger audience for you to share what you think you know, and fewer reasons to listen to people who disagree with you, even if they might have a valid point.

How dumb is that?