Port Huron Times Herald op-ed: Let’s give communities the tools to keep talent home

Posted · Add Comment

The following op-ed was printed by the Port Huron Times Herald on April 13, 2016. The piece can also be read online at the Times Herald website.

Sen. Phil Pavlov

Sen. Phil Pavlov

By Sen. Phil Pavlov
25th Senate District

As a parent I get it — there’s not much tougher than watching our kids grow up, get a great local education, then leave our communities just to find a job. That was the sad reality that faced thousands of families for the better part of a decade.

We’ve taken some important steps to reverse that trend across Michigan, and we’re seeing the numbers change. We’ve created jobs, cut taxes, and eliminated more than a thousand rules and regulations that were strangling innovation and sending our kids scrambling for opportunities in other states.

But Lansing still hasn’t done enough. The Times Herald recently covered some of my efforts to change that (“Foundation launches ‘reverse scholarships,’” March 23). I’ve been proud to spearhead efforts to equip groups like the Community Foundation of St. Clair County to provide “reverse scholarships” to bring college graduates with in-demand training in science, technology, engineering, arts or math back to the Thumb to live, work, and create a life.

While it’s important to bring folks with college degrees back to our communities, we shouldn’t miss another important opportunity — the chance to bring the college degrees to our hometown schools so local talent never has to leave in the first place.

The Cherry Commission and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation recommended that community colleges be given the power to confer certain bachelor’s degrees, and this became possible under a bill signed into law in 2012.

St. Clair County Community College is an incredible local resource that’s better positioned than ever before to offer four-year degrees right here in the Thumb.

Students in the Thumb could get an education employers are looking for and they could do it more cost effectively than if they packed their bags and moved out to a traditional four-year institution. Community college tuition is often one-third the cost of the average tuition at a university, and the tuition in the third and fourth years of these programs would still be less expensive than it would be if the program were offered at a university.

In addition, this option would enable students to live in the community and work while earning a degree. Access is often easier at community colleges than it is at universities because of less commute time.

Many community colleges have made financial and infrastructure investments that four-year institutions often find difficult to make. And many programs offered by community colleges are not usually offered by universities. In other words, they provide options to students that can meet a demand that is currently not being met.

We’ve heard talk locally for years about converting St. Clair County Community College to a four-year university, but under this law, we could bring the degrees to the community instead.

In recent years I have also championed expanding the ability of students to dual enroll in college courses as a way to help address the cost of higher education, put families and students first, and help young people stay in the community and make communities stronger.

A package of bills also signed into law in 2012 has made it easier for non-public-school students and younger students to dual enroll, and it has allowed public high school students to take technical college courses earlier than before.

It’s an exciting time to live and work in the Thumb.

Reverse scholarships, offering four-year degrees at community colleges, and promoting dual enrollment are all ways to expand higher education and community development opportunities in the Thumb.

They’re options that keep families and communities together, and they’re growing our local economy, too.

Senator Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, is chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He serves the residents of the 25th Senate District, representing Huron, Sanilac and St. Clair counties; and Armada Township, Memphis, New Baltimore, Richmond and Richmond Township in Macomb County.