This article originally appeared in Capital Gainsan online magazine and website showcasing the growth and investments transforming the Lansing region, on February 24, 2016. It has been edited by PSC staff for this reprint in Bright Ideas.

Talent. It’s a big topic in Michigan. And while a key concern is talent fleeing after college, what happens to the kids who never have access—or the grades to go—to college?

Some people in Michigan are prioritizing not just college costs or the brain drain, but college attainment in Michigan, and they have aggressive goals for driving change.

“The future prosperity of our state is dependent on the talent of our workforce,” says Jeff Guilfoyle, vice president of Public Sector Consultants (PSC), a Lansing-based public policy firm. “Personal income and education attainment are highly correlated.”

Guilfoyle and the team at PSC know change starts at the K-12 level. Promising strategies they are exploring include enhanced mentoring, tutoring, help with career and class selection and potentially even child care.

“Big data can be used to help flag students who might be at risk of dropping out, allowing for early intervention.”

“The future prosperity of our state is dependent on the talent of our workforce.”

College as a public good

To understand college attainment, first let’s define “college.” The Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), a Lansing-based group focused on increasing college readiness, participation and completion in Michigan, defines college as all forms of postsecondary education and uses the term to refer to the attainment of valuable postsecondary credentials beyond high school.

Brandy Johnson, executive director of MCAN, explains, “We believe college is for everyone, a necessity, and a public good.”

Seventy percent of jobs in Michigan will require education beyond high school by the end of the current decade. Only 38 percent of Michiganders have an associate degree or higher and another 7 to 8 percent have a certificate in a technical field, according to a report by MI Talent Goal 2025. It’s no secret this mismatch is already a problem, and likely to become worse.

So what can we do about it?

Starting a movement

MCAN is not shy about setting goals it believes will put Michigan where it needs to be in order to be competitive with other states and establish economic prosperity.

“We’ve set a goal to increase the percentage of Michigan residents with degrees or postsecondary certificates to 60 percent by 2025,” says Johnson. “Particularly among low-income, minority and first-generation college-going students.”

MCAN’s strategy to reach this goal has been to create Local College Access Networks (LCANs) across the state. LCANs are defined as local and community-based strategic alliances between businesses, educators, nonprofits and more. MCAN has statewide initiatives to boost college access within these LCANs, ranging from College Application Week—an initiative to provide every graduating high school senior in Michigan the opportunity to apply to college during the school day—to the Michigan College Cash Campaign, an initiative that encourages schoolwide rallies trying to make completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) celebration-worthy.

Best practices at a national level

While states around the country develop strategies for college attainment, many states are using strategies similar to those used in Michigan, such as LCANs. MCAN recognizes the importance of participating in nationwide efforts and finding support outside of Michigan.

Johnson is proud to participate in a higher education task force spearheaded by first lady Michelle Obama. The task force focuses on the vital role of school counselors in impacting students’ college and career readiness, and it challenged states to make a bold commitment to help more students prepare for and graduate from college.

Johnson and the team at MCAN answered the challenge with the launch of AdviseMI.

AdviseMI is a program of empowerment. Recent college graduates step into high schools as college advisers and are connected with low-income and first-generation college-going students. The inevitable questions—How will I pay for this? What is college like? What should I major in? What school is right for me?—are answered by the people closest to the college experience, who just conquered it.

Lindsey Newell is currently serving as an AdviseMI AmeriCorps Member in Jackson and Springport, Michigan. She recalls a small but meaningful experience she had with a high school senior this month.

“[The student] came into my office in a panic because she had just checked her e-mail saying her application was incomplete for a college she had applied to,” she says. “We sat down and logged into her account to look at her application. We weren’t able to figure out exactly what happened, but we filled out another application together, sent a transcript request, and talked about scholarships after.”

Newell could see the relief in the student’s face as they worked through the problem. Frustrating moments like this can discourage students from moving forward if they don’t have the right resources to turn to for help and advice, especially if no one in their family or support system has ever completed a college application or complicated FAFSA paperwork.

“It was a good feeling to know that she was able to immediately solve her problem with my help and that she didn’t have to panic anymore,” Newell says. “It was a simple problem to solve, but had a big effect on what she was feeling in that moment.”

Education as a step to economic prosperity

Unsurprisingly, research shows states with the highest degree and certificate attainment also have the highest incomes. Today, Michigan ranks 38th in the nation in personal income, $5,000 below the national average. Higher education needs to be better connected with the workforce in order to ensure that programs prepare students with the skills needed by the industry.

As Johnson puts it, “Michigan has to prepare more of its citizens, young and old, for good jobs—both to meet the needs of employers today and to have the skills needed to be the job creators of tomorrow.”