The Detroit News/April 18, 2010
By Nolan Finley
My mother wanted me to go to college. My father wanted me to be a plumber. Had he been around to watch me fix a dripping faucet by removing both the sink and countertops, he likely would have been in rare agreement with mom.
Though they had different views of my vocational aptitude, my parents, neither of whom went to high school, knew my success depended on attaining a marketable skill.
That's a recognition parents have been slow to come to in a state that built its prosperity on low-skill, high-wage jobs. But with the prosperity gone, that's changing.
"The needle is moving," says Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan. "There's a greater understanding that the fundamental change in the economy makes higher education vital."
She cites as evidence that the University of Michigan-Flint, located at the epicenter of the economic meltdown, is the state's fastest growing campus.
Six years ago, Coleman visited The Detroit News and challenged us to examine the culture of education in Michigan. We did, in a series of surveys aimed at measuring what value Michigan residents place on college education.
What we found was distressing. A poll of parents revealed only 27 percent saw a college degree as essential to their child's success.
That work led The News into a partnership with Your Child of Michigan, a group of education and business groups committed to raising awareness of the importance of getting every child to college or vocational training beyond high school.
Tomorrow, Your Child launches ItsMIlife.com, a social networking Web site that will connect the desire to go to college with the know-how needed to get there.
Because of Michigan's industrial heritage, many children come from homes where no one has ever attended college.
"That's where we still need work," Coleman says. "We have to start with these students and their parents in the eighth and ninth grades, helping them understand what it will take to be ready for college."
Margaret Trimer-Hartley, executive director of Your Child, says the Web site is a forum for teens to talk with each other and with students already on state campuses, and get answers when they're ready from the experts.
"MILife.com brings high school students together in a focused conversation about making the most of their life," Trimer-Hartley says. "It's basically peer-to-peer life coaching."
In other words, it's a place where kids can talk about college without getting lectured.
It was developed with a federal Wired grant through the Detroit Regional Chamber, and support from Business Leaders of Michigan.
I know as much about social networking as I do about plumbing. But I'm excited about the site because I remember what's it's like to be a kid who wants to go college, but had no idea how to get there and whose parents didn't know how to help.
Nolan Finley is editorial page editor of The News. Reach him at email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org.