Cherry Commission Holds Hearing at NMU


Lt. Governor John Cherry and his Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth held the first of its six public hearings scheduled throughout the state on Tuesday (Sept. 7) at NMU. About 20 people testified at the hearing. They included NMU President Les Wong and the presidents of all Upper Peninsula community colleges and universities; U.P. business and community leaders; and several K-12 administrators and teachers.


Gov. Jennifer Granholm created the 40-person commission and charged the group to “explore ways in which Michigan can strengthen its commitment to education and economic growth.” The governor has expressed a desire to see Michigan double the number of new college graduates within the state over the next decade.

"Increasing the educational attainment of our workforce is a social and economic imperative if we are to create new jobs and grow the economy in our state," said Granholm. "To compete in a global economy, a post-secondary degree or certificate is no longer an option – it’s essential."

The commission will also address the falloff revealed by studies that show 90 percent of Michigan high school students express an interest in a post-secondary education, yet only 41 percent go on to college or vocational school. Only 18 percent graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Another main goal of the commission is to identify general and specific skills necessary to “embrace jobs of the 21st century.” Fewer than 22 percent of Michigan adults hold college degrees of any kind, Cherry said at the hearing. This figure puts Michigan 4 percent below the national average and 5-10 percent below states that are leading the nation in terms of both education attainment and economic growth. Only 14 states are below Michigan in this measure.

“Our advanced manufacturing and new technology-based businesses demand the talents of an increasingly educated workforce,” said Cherry. “The commission will work to find innovative and concrete solutions to address the skills gap. It is our intention to provide a solid, long-term vision for our state’s economic stability. We are committed to fostering an educated, tech-savvy, and knowledge-ready workforce in Michigan. Where once ‘brawn work’ is what drove Michigan ’s economic success, today it is ‘brain work’ that is needed.”

Wong testified that strong state funding would be needed to significantly increase the number of students attending and completing post-secondary degree programs. He also suggested that the commission not take a “cookie-cutter approach” to Michigan’s higher education institutions but to celebrate and support each school’s unique aspects.

“I also hope the Commission strongly encourages innovation and risk-taking from all of Michigan colleges and universities,” Wong said, indirectly referencing the laptop computer program at Northern. “In fact, I’d go so far as to advocate that the state find ways to reward those schools that are willing to take calculated risks to bring about transformational change.”


Wong closed his testimony by saying, “I applaud Governor Granholm, Lieutenant Governor Cherry, the commissioners and those serving on the work groups for their efforts to take Michigan ’s outstanding higher education system and make it one that is superior. The potential is there, but it will not happen without a fearlessness to let go of the traditional standards on the part of both government and universities.”

Five other public hearings will be held between Sept. 13 and Oct. 18 at various locations in Michigan.



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Updated: September 9, 2004