Chancellor's Office

Focus region's students on college math, science


Detroit News Op-Ed
August 8, 2007

The most important asset a region offers in the global competition for business and jobs is a concentration of young talent. Having been involved in teaching and education all my life, I am constantly striving to improve the educational system to maximize the enormous potential of our students. Yet, sometimes I feel we are letting our young people down.

In a recent Detroit News-Your Child survey, only 27 percent of Michigan parents view a college education as essential to future success. Yet it is essential.

A college graduate will earn $1 million more over a lifetime than a high school graduate, but this disconnect is bigger than just pocketbook issues. Our educational attitudes will determine the future success of our region.

Michigan is not alone in its challenges to prepare students for a knowledge-based economy. The United States has fallen to 12th place among major industrialized countries in higher education attainment and 16th in high school graduation. The statistics are particularly discouraging in (STEM) science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Among the 40 countries participating in the Program for International Student Assessment, the United States ranked 28th in math and 24th in science. STEM degrees account for about 17 percent of postsecondary degrees awarded in the United States, while other nations have seen a rapid growth in engineering and science degrees.

Bottom line, we are not preparing our students for the jobs of the future.

The "Road to Renaissance" initiatives have emphasized educational preparedness to transform the economy in Metro Detroit. I am co-chairing a task force with Focus Hope co-founder Eleanor Josaitis to increase the availability of and access to training and education in the region in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

As part of that initiative, we need to enhance the awareness of the need for postsecondary education and training, and developing a communications and marketing strategy that will target displaced workers and young adults. With the guiding principles of One D as outlined by Edsel Ford at the recent Mackinac Policy Conference, we are seeking to use the best resources in Metro Detroit to realize our ultimate goal of working together to prepare students for success.

What are some drivers of the next economy? The need to save time and move products and goods faster across a global marketplace, improve safety and reliability, and find economical ways to lessen the impact on the environment. It will take science, technology, engineering and math to tackle these challenges and a highly educated work force to solve them.

Now is the time to make a major investment in programs that enhance the community's awareness of the need for postsecondary education. Regions supporting the development of an educated work force will be winners in the global economy.

Daniel Little is the chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn.