Place-based initiative offers research evidence for Michigan governor's proposals

Michign Capitol at dusk

Michgan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's 2024 State of the State address outlined a comprehensive set of plans to address the state's challenges. Her speech emphasized lowering costs for families through a caregiver tax credit; educational initiatives, specifically pre-K for all 4-year-olds and a tuition-free pathway for community college; and several economic development strategies to encourage companies to make things in Michigan. For these programs to be successful, they must be designed and implemented carefully, in line with the best evidence.

The Promise: Investing in Community initiative at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research focuses on producing evidence-based strategies for communities to create good jobs and equip residents with the skills and resources to work in them. Our research has identified several strategies for making the plans outlined in the address work effectively:

Caring for MI Family Tax Credit

Pre-K for Every 4-year-old

  • Quality matters. Only pre-K programs of high quality have lasting positive effects on individuals who participated as children.
  • Promote high-quality programs by ensuring adequate funding per child and opportunities to improve teaching through improvements to the compensation structure and enhanced training.
  • Children from all income groups can benefit from high-quality pre-K, but the social benefits are likely to be greatest for disadvantaged students. Income-integrated programs are more likely to be high-quality, however, so the ideal program would be universal in scope, but also include targeting features to serve as many disadvantaged students as possible.

Tuition-free Community College

  • Tuition-free community college represents a pathway toward upward mobility for residents and an investment in the economic vitality of the state. A half-dozen states have already made community college tuition free for all their residents, and the Michigan Reconnect program does the same for adults without college degrees.
  • Program design is important. Choices about student eligibility and which institutions students can attend will shape who benefits and the impact on individuals, communities, and the state.
  • Simplicity is key, both in the design of the program and how its benefits are communicated to students and families.
  • It’s not just the money—supporting students is crucial, especially those without previous knowledge of colleges or strong networks. Guidance through critical junctures, such as high school-to-college and college-to-workforce, is essential. Work-based learning and other avenues for partnering with businesses will help students maximize their education and find good job opportunities.

Economic Development

Following the evidence when implementing, refining, or expanding these programs will yield greater benefits for the state of Michigan and its residents. The above recommendations show how it can be done.

Date: January 25, 2024