The Value of Higher Education

Photo By Doug Julian

Colleges and universities elevate the quality of life for the region.

Go to college. Get a degree. Find a good job. This mantra has become dogma for generations of high   school graduates. Colleges are often viewed—and rightfully so—as institutions that help individuals achieve success through the education and training they provide; however, colleges should also be appreciated for how they so positively influence the communities they reside in—no attendance required.

Colleges are the springboard that hurls fledgling adults headlong into the career of their dreams. Its the blackboard that nontraditional students use to rewrite their future through continued education that helps them advance in their career or change vocation. Beyond the invaluable education they provide, colleges give local communities a significant economic boost, raise the skill level of the area’s workforce, have a cultural affect, and give back to the community by promoting student volunteerism.

The Great Lakes Bay Region is blessed to have a range of community colleges and universities that have helped shape the region into what it is today and will continue to define what the region is to become well into the future. Located within a 60-mile radius, Central Michigan University (CMU), Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU), Delta College, and Northwood University provide the region with an economic impact, workforce training and development, arts and culture, and philanthopic opportunities that all Great Lakes Bay Region residents benefit from.

Photo courtesy of Northwood University

Economic Impact

According to Pew Research Center, the percentage of the population that changes residence annually has reduced by half since the mid-’80s, meaning more people are remaining in their hometown—or at least within their home region—following college graduation. Indeed, SVSU has over 42,000 alumni, 85 percent of which work and reside within the state, and more than half reside in East Central Michigan.

This is significant because research has shown that education level causes higher earnings. In fact, on average, those who have at least a bachelor’s degree earn nearly double what those with only a high school diploma earn annually. Further, though wealthier individuals tend to save a higher percentage of their income, they also spend more than less wealthy individuals, meaning they provide a greater economic impact overall.

Another aspect of this is the jobs that these institutions provide for their communities. Beyond faculty and administration, these colleges and universities also employ personnel for maintenance, janitorial services, and food services. CMU alone employs approximately 2,600 faculty and staff. That’s equivalent to employing the entire town of  Vassar. Additionally, SVSU reports that 85 percent of its employees reside within the four-county region of Bay, Isabella, Midland, and Saginaw, and 62 percent ($108 million) of university expenses are spent within the region.

Central Michigan University
Photo by Doug Julian

Workforce building

The Great Lakes Bay Region could be categorized as a blue collar or working class region as a result of the prevalence of the automotive industry. However, as Bob Dylan so eloquently stated: “The times they are a-changin’.” Many jobs in the region that once required only a high school diploma now require qualifications such as a degree or vocational certificate; this is largely due to equipment being more technical and requiring more proficiency than the equipment that our fathers and grandfathers used on the job.

Manufacturing in the region is on the rise, but it can only grow if there is a workforce qualified to fill available positions. In fact, Kathy Conklin, executive director of Great Lakes Bay Manufacturer’s Association, states that around 1,000 CNC operators alone will be needed over the next several years to fill available positions for the region’s manufacturers.

Delta College has become a regional leader in providing vocational training to help area residents achieve the necessary accreditation to hold certain manufacturing positions. The community college launched a STEM diversity initiative in 2012, and offers over 170 degree and certificate programs to help residents gain education and training that helps keep the region’s manufacturers competitive in the global marketplace.

Beyond Delta’s contribution to workforce building, SVSU is renowned for its nursing, education, and technical communication programs; Northwood boasts a world-class business school; and CMU’s College of Medicine places an emphasis on educating and training medical professionals to provide care for underserved populations. All of which translates into a well-rounded workforce within the region.

Saginaw Valley State University
Photo by Doug Julian

Cultural impact

If knowledge is power, then the region’s colleges empower us through their robust library systems. SVSU’s Melvin J. Zhanow Library serves as a centerpiece on the SVSU campus. CMU’s library system is anchored by the Charles V. Park Library and features the Clarke Historical Library, which among its various bibliographic endeavors has worked to preserve Michigan’s newspapers for over 50 years.

Beyond the physical stacks of books, periodicals, and reference materials that provide a wealth of knowledge, all of the region’s libraries offer access to countless online databases containing peer-reviewed research materials. Never before has so much “power” been available at the click of a mouse.

What constitutes culture is very subjective; however, the region’s colleges offer something for everyone over the calendar year. Whether it’s Delta’s annual AIDS Walk to raise funds for and promote awareness about the disease, Northwood’s Youth Leadership Program that provides Midland ninth-graders the opportunity to learn about leadership and team building, SVSU’s various exhibits at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum or University Art Gallery, or CMU’s annual ACE Women of Excellence Award Reception that honors campus leaders, you are sure to find an event on the campus calendar to pique your interest.

Photo courtesy of Northwood University

Giving back

As if these institutions don’t do enough for the region, they all also highly encourage students and faculty alike to volunteer within the community. Beyond encouraging volunteerism, many programs actually require a minimum amount of community service before degree completion.

Volunteerism enhances civic engagement, strengthens student and faculty connections to the community, and makes a significant contribution to local economies. According to the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, in the United States, volunteers produce services worth on average $150 billion annually.

Many volunteers provide their time and services to organizations that in turn help the most underserved of the population. These organizations often don’t have the budgets to hire the skilled workers that volunteerism affords them, meaning they couldn’t serve the populations they do without the help of volunteers.

Delta College
Photo by Doug Julian

The takeaway

For such a relatively small geographic area, the Great Lakes Bay Region boasts a wealth of quality higher education institutions—from a community college to major universities. In addition to higher education, these colleges provide the region with a significant economic effect, host cultural events, offer continued education to keep the region’s workforce competitive in the global marketplace, and foster and promote philanthropic efforts from staff and students alike. Considering this, when contemplating the value of higher education, perhaps it’s time we started factoring in the value that higher education institutions have on their communities—for even those who don’t attend, surely benefit from them. 

Central Michigan University
Photo by Doug Julian

Saginaw Valley State University
Photo by Doug Julian