Whitmer talks education reform

Michigan governor visits WSCC, meets with local leaders

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke on higher education and skilled trades development at WSCC on Monday. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

MASON COUNTY — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continued her “Home for Opportunity” tour on Monday at West Shore Community College (WSCC), where she addressed higher education and skilled trades development.

During her tour on Monday, Whitmer also visited Muskegon Community College and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.

After touring the WSCC Technical Center, Whitmer spoke to a crowd of students, educators and community leaders on her administration’s plans to close the State of Michigan’s “skills gap” and create a pathway for residents to attain employment.

“I am very grateful and inspired by what I see at campuses like this all over the State of Michigan,” Whitmer said during her speech at WSCC. “As Governor I am going to stay focused on addressing the issues that really matter to people in our state and to building a stronger economy in the State of Michigan.”

When it comes to attaining postsecondary education, Whitmer said Michigan is falling behind with only 44 percent of the population that has some type of certification or degree.

“Whether it is a credential, a community college or a four-year (institution), that is woefully behind where we need to be,” she said.

With that, Whitmer said many Michiganders lack the skills needed for a variety of higher paying jobs in the state, as a majority of positions require some form of postsecondary education.

“Michigan used to be the world leader when it came to (its) workforce, the quality of our workforce and the skills that we offered,” the governor stated.

During her State of the State address last week, Whitmer set a goal to increase the number of Michiganders with postsecondary education from 44 percent to 60 percent of residents between the ages of 16 and 64 by 2030.

The governor also proposed a series of initiatives to close the “skills gap,” which includes a scholarship program that would guarantee free community college for high school graduates, and tuition assistance for students at four-year colleges and universities.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer toured the West Shore Community College Technical Center on Monday. (Ashlyn Korienek/News Advocate)

“Until last week we were the only state in the Midwest and one of only five states in our country that had not formally set a goal,” she said. “I set a goal last week during the State of the State and said 60 percent by 2030. It’s aggressive compared to where we are today, but it is absolutely attainable.

“It is attainable when we work together and prioritize, making sure that everyone who is willing to put some work in has a real path to prosperity in this state.”

During the State of the State, Whitmer also announced plans for “Michigan Reconnect,” a program that would train people seeking skills for in-demand jobs or to advance in their current job.

She said the program seeks to connect Michigan businesses with qualified candidates to fill vacant jobs. On Monday at WSCC, Whitmer spoke more on the drive behind these programs.

“It’s time for us to really embrace that everyone has a different path,” she said. “During that State of the State I outlined making sure that everyone truly has a path, whether it is somebody in the workforce that needs to skill-up to hold on to the job they have because it’s evolving, or if they want to get into a different line of work or they have been displaced.”

Also on Monday, Whitmer met with area leaders in business, education and other areas to talk more about where the state is heading with postsecondary education and skilled trades development.

Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), who attended the meeting at WSCC, said he backs Whitmer’s plan to focus on higher education and skilled trades development, and is hopeful lawmakers will be able to invoke change.

“What she’s talking about I am 100 percent behind,” VanderWall said. “I look forward to working with her to make sure that we can get it done.”

“The skilled trades, we have worked hard on that over the last several years with our past leadership and now in the future, there’s not a disconnect there which is really exciting,” VanderWall added.

Both parties, he said, are aiming to work across the aisle to push for progress in Michigan. However, they are not quite settled on the details.

“It’s only going to be as good as what we are willing to do,” he said. “As long as we have open minds, it’s going to make us work closer together so we do get policy done.”

Whitmer told members of the press on Monday that through her tours around Michigan, she has truly been able to see what’s going on at institutions around the state.

“Sometimes the absolute best path for someone is through a community college,” she said. “Community college offers real skills that translate to the work place in jobs that are going to have higher paychecks.”

WSCC president Scott Ward said the visit from Whitmer and other local leaders like VanderWall offered the college a chance to display its successes and opportunities to future growth.

“It was an honor to have the governor on campus,” Ward said. “It really made me happy to be able to showcase so many connections and partnerships in our community to see what an important role the college plays in the community.”

“Everything we offer has a direct immediate impact in our local economies, and we certainly have showcased programs such as the partnership with the (Career and Technical Education) program,” he added. “We are bringing over 500 high school students to campus every day.”

Contact Ashlyn Korienek at (231) 398-3109 or email akorienek@pioneergroup.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MNA_Ashlyn.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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