LANSING – Scholarship program plans unveiled last month by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in her State of the State address for increasing access to postsecondary education picked up the backing of multiple business groups Thursday.

Business Leaders for Michigan, the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Grand Rapids Chamber and the Small Business Association of Michigan announced they supported the Michigan Reconnect program for adults returning to education and the two-part MI Opportunity Scholarship for high school graduates.

Business Leaders for Michigan CEO Doug Rothwell called the governor’s plans to promote a goal of 60 percent degree or certificate attainment by 2030 as attainable and worth seeking to make Michigan more competitive.

“Nearly every large employer in Michigan faces the same major challenge: talent attraction and retention. We want to have homegrown talent sustaining our state’s productivity and continued economic growth, and to achieve that we need to boost the number of residents who attain a post-secondary degree or certification,” Mr. Rothwell said.

In 2016, about 44 percent of Michigan residents had some form of postsecondary certificate or degree. Ms. Whitmer in her February address said Michigan is one of nine states without a specified postsecondary attainment goal and having one would make the state more competitive.

Michigan Reconnect would give Michigan residents age 25 and over tuition-free access to a technical certification, associate’s degree or transfer option to a bachelor’s degree. The program is modeled on a Tennessee program.

The MI Opportunity Scholarship would offer high school students either debt-free attendance at a community college or two years of assistance toward a four-year degree. As proposed, for the community college path, the state would pay the remaining tuition after Pell grants and other state awards are applied. For the university path, the state would give $2,500 annually to students attending a Michigan public or not-for-profit, four-year private college or university. Students would be required to maintain a 3.0 grade-point average and have a household income of less than $80,000 per year.

Response to the initial proposal has been positive, although there have been questions by some lawmakers as to the potential cost.

Ms. Whitmer plans to include the Opportunity Scholarship programs in her 2020-21 budget, giving businesses and institutions a year to develop the programs for potential legislative action.

“We need a unified, comprehensive strategy to connect more people to education and opportunity. SBAM looks forward to working with the Whitmer administration and the Legislature to reach the ambitious 60 percent degree or certificate attainment by the year 2030,” SBAM President Brian Calley said.

Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said the Detroit group has long been a supporter of pushing a goal of 60 percent.

“Our experience leading the Detroit Promise helps us provide valuable feedback to ensuring the governor’s proposal fills the talent gap and allow businesses to succeed across the state,” Mr. Baruah said.

Grand Rapids Chamber Vice President of Governmental Affairs Andy Johnston echoed the other business groups on the need for a larger educated workforce to remain competitive.

“To combat this issue, we need a plan to increase degree attainment, including four year and two-year degrees, as well as certificates and credentials,” Mr. Johnston said.

This story was published by Gongwer News Service.