There's a growing consensus around the idea that if Michigan is going to flourish without the dominance of the Detroit automakers, it's going to need to expand access to higher education. And more and more jobs in the United States are beginning to require more education.
But it's also getting harder for many to attend college. The cost of college jumped nearly 11 percent last year. Meager state funding hikes have forced universities in Michigan to raise tuition to keep up with rising costs throughout the economy. As they campaigned in Michigan this weekend, the three Republican frontrunners spoke about how they would change the country's education system if elected.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Friday at the Masonic Temple in Detroit that he would help young Americans get the education they need to "have a shot at the American dream."
Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, said Michigan residents are struggling through a recession partly because many who lost jobs in the automotive industry didn't have the necessary training to enter new job fields. He said the lack of expertise - and the resulting unemployment - in the United States is a consequence of a failed education system that only guarantees education through 12th grade.
Huckabee said a high school diploma is no longer enough to ensure long-lasting job security for working Americans. He said today's more technologically advanced industries require more specialized training.
"We're now looking at a minimum of K-14, not the idea of K-12 as a bare minimum to be prepared for the job market today," Huckabee said.
After a speech in Grand Rapids, Huckabee told members of the press that while higher education was mostly a state issue, he would work to find ways to help students pay for their education after they graduate from high school.
"It is in our best interest as a country to ensure that people continue to achieve levels of education," Huckabee said. "I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea that we ought to just give it to people for free. I think that people perform better when they work for it."
Huckabee said students struggling to afford the rising costs of college should look to federally-sponsored service scholarships. He said military and AmeriCorps programs, which help students to repay loans, could curtail the rising debt college graduates face.
He praised service scholarships because he said students would have to earn their tuition and would in turn be rewarded for their hard work, but didn't say whether he would provide additional funding to these pre-existing programs.
At his many campaign stops in Michigan, Republican presidential candidate John McCain told Michigan residents that higher education, specifically vocational training, is essential to solving the economic crisis in Michigan.
While crowds in Livonia booed when McCain, a senator from Arizona, said automotive jobs have left the state won't be returning, they nodded in approval when he voiced his plans to provide displaced workers with training in new fields.
McCain said he'd create a federal program to pay for Americans to attend community colleges and receive vocational training so they could better compete for jobs in technological fields.
"We must be a nation committed to competitiveness and opportunity," McCain's campaign website says. "We must fight for the ability of all students to have access to any school of demonstrated excellence."
Kinesiology senior Allison Schneider, chair of the University's chapter of Students for McCain, said McCain's plan is crucial for an economic comeback in Michigan.
"I think expanding the opportunities for education, like his plan to use community collges is a great option," Schneider said.
Republican presidential candidate and Mitt Romney told crowds Friday in Grand Rapids he would provide more opportunities for students to receive post-secondary degrees.
Romney, who has promised to increase investment in the research and manufacturing fields, said he would use federal resources to improve education.
"I want to invest in better education, in higher education," Romney said, without specifying particular strategies.
LSA senior Amy Drumm, chair of the University's chapter of Students for Romney, said Romney would expand the program he established as governor of Massachusetts which provided full-tuition scholarships to high achieving high school seniors.
"He would give full-ride scholarships to state and public universities for students who tried very hard in high school and succeeded," Drumm said. "Students with high GPAs, and participated in community events will be rewarded."
More than 30,000 high school seniors received scholarships to attend state universities in Massachusetts in the past two years, according to Romney's campaign website.
Romney's campaign website says he will work to improve math and science education in charter schools and "public-private partnerships" to prepare high school students for training after they graduate.
© 2008 Michigan Daily via U-WIRE