TalentFirst launches Michigan Center for Adult College Success to help more Michiganders obtain the credentials they need to thrive

Grand Rapids, MI (May 23, 2023) – CEO alliance TalentFirst today announced a statewide, multimillion-dollar initiative to help more adults obtain postsecondary credentials, a critical need for Michigan to compete in a knowledge-based economy.

The Michigan Center for Adult College Success will serve as the state’s primary resource for research, support and best practices on increasing adult enrollment and completion of postsecondary credentials and degrees.

The Center will partner with community colleges and universities to research, design, fund, pilot and evaluate innovative programs, said TalentFirst President Kevin Stotts.

“If we hope to compete economically, we must close our skills and education gaps. Adult learners are critical to that,” Stotts said “These nontraditional students have complex lives. They have jobs. They have families. We can and must do better to help them enroll and complete their post-secondary education.”

As of 2021, Michigan’s postsecondary attainment rate was 50.5% – lagging the national average of 53.7% and last among the Great Lakes states. Michigan has set a goal that 60 percent of working age adults have a postsecondary degree by 2030. To get there, we need 431,000 more adults to reach that milestone by the end of the decade. This challenge has led the state to invest in postsecondary success.

The Center is funded by a one-time state appropriation of $9.2 million to be spent over four years, primarily on launching pilot programs at community colleges and universities.

Jeremy Hendges, the Center’s executive director, brings 20 years of experience as a legislative staffer and in state department leadership, roles in which he was involved in numerous talent development initiatives, including the establishment of Michigan Reconnect , a state program that provides tuition support for adult students.

“Reconnect has been an important investment in improving state talent,” Hendges said. “Now we need to work on maximizing the return on that investment by increasing enrollment of adult learners and helping more of them complete their postsecondary education.

“We aim to make Michigan the leader in adult enrollment and completion of credentials and degrees,” Hendges said.

The Center is an initiative of TalentFirst. It has a statewide focus and is led by a governing council with statewide representation, including Chris Baldwin, senior fellow at the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement; Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan; Todd Gustafson, president & CEO of nonprofit Kinexus; Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association; Jim Jacobs, president emeritus of Macomb Community College; Bill Rayl, executive director of the Michigan Manufacturers Association; Amy Lee, executive dean of collaborative programs for the Michigan Community College Association; and Sarah Szurpicki, director of Sixty x 30 for the state of Michigan. Stotts also will serve on the governing council.

The initial work will be to identify public universities, private colleges, and community colleges that are open to developing better ways to attract adult students and enable them to persist and earn credentials. The Center will assist with new program design, offering technical assistance and seed funding to test new designs. The Center will work with its partners to deploy at scale those initiatives that produce increased credential completion.

In addition to the emphasis on adult postsecondary education, TalentFirst also recently published a report, Restoring the Promise of Adult Education in Michigan , and issued a call for reforms to the state’s strategy on adult foundational education. Stotts noted that an estimated 716,000 adult Michiganders are unable to take advantage of opportunities like Michigan Reconnect because they lack a high school diploma.

“These are complementary objectives,” Stotts said. “If we can increase the number of adults earning their diploma or high school equivalency, we increase the pool eligible to enroll in postsecondary education. And if we increase access of that group to innovative supports, we will increase the numbers who succeed at that next level.”

About TalentFirst

TalentFirst is a premiere alliance of West Michigan CEOs who are joined by HR leaders, educators, workforce leaders, and policymakers to collaborate on an unmatched scale for the benefit of all who live and work in the region. As a data-driven organization, TalentFirst provides practical, proven resources, strategies, tactics, advocacy and accountability to improve the recruitment, development and retention of talent in West Michigan.