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LANSING, Mich. — Last night, Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivered her fourth State of the State address, focusing on recent bipartisan progress to build infrastructure, support small businesses, increase access to affordable childcare, eliminate barriers to high-paying jobs and make the largest K-12 education investment in state history. In looking ahead to future opportunities, Gov. Whitmer laid out her proposals to cut taxes for seniors and working families, lower costs for insulin and electric vehicles, and expand access to mental health services.

This virtual address came just days after Gov. Whitmer joined Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) to celebrate an announcement by General Motors that the automaker plans to invest $7 billion in electric vehicle manufacturing facilities in Michigan, creating and retaining 5,000 jobs in our state. The next day, however, many Michiganders learned that in 2020, for the first time in recorded history, Michigan’s number of deaths outpaced our number of births, the result of years-long trends exacerbated by the pandemic. While Michigan’s workforce continues to age, COVID-19 has also pinched the high school to college pipeline, which, if unaddressed, will only widen the talent gap our state is already facing.

MCAN supports Gov. Whitmer’s plans to grow Michigan’s economy, create more good-paying jobs and lower costs for families. Our state has an incredible opportunity in the coming months to create a budget that invests in postsecondary education, helping to drive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and preparing our residents for work in high-growth industries.

Statement from Michigan College Access Network Executive Director Ryan Fewins-Bliss:

“In order to address Michigan’s talent crisis, it is more important than ever to invest in tomorrow’s workforce. Our ability to attract job-creating projects like GM’s investment will depend largely on how well we train and retain our in-state talent. We need to make strategic investments in getting our high school students to and through college, providing them with the skills to compete in the workforce.

MCAN is encouraged to hear Gov. Whitmer advocate once again for increased school funding, with a special emphasis on hiring more nurses, school counselors and mental health professionals. Recent traumatic events have put an even greater strain on high school staff who are already stretched thin. Michigan is second only to Arizona in the nation for the worst student to counselor ratio — 671 students to one counselor, according to data from the 2019-20 school year — and Michigan needs to find innovative ways to educate, hire and retain these vital school support staff members.

We are also heartened to hear Gov. Whitmer celebrate the success of Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect, which have put 170,000 Michiganders on a tuition-free path to college degrees and certificates. We encourage the governor to push to expand Michigan Reconnect, including funding for wraparound services like childcare and food assistance, to give more adults a chance to improve their economic opportunities.

The momentum of these programs shows the hunger in Michigan for new economic opportunities, and we need to make sure all students can fully benefit from them. We must find equitable ways to get more students through college without incurring debt.

Through the American Rescue Plan Act and an unexpected state budget surplus, our political leaders have a once-in-a-generation chance to address systemic needs and shore up the foundation of our economy. We hope that as Gov. Whitmer heads into budget negotiations with the Republican-led legislature, they can come together and use this incredible opportunity to invest in postsecondary education and build a brighter future for all Michiganders.

If Michigan wants to be a leader in electric vehicles, renewable energy and other high-growth industries, we need a well-trained workforce. Three years ago, in her first State of the State address, Gov. Whitmer set an ambitious goal of Sixty by 30 — 60 percent of Michigan residents having a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030. In 2022, the climb looks steeper, but reaching the summit has become even more important. The economic future of Michigan depends on getting more students — especially first-generation college-going students, low income students, and students of color — to and through college. We hope that Gov. Whitmer and the legislature can, in her own words, ‘fight for each other, not with each other,’ and ‘come together to get things done.’”