By Brad Kadrich – Observer Staff Writer
Former Wayne-Westland school board member Trish Brown believes encouraging a more highly educated workforce is the only way to bring business to Michigan.
And instead of standing on the sidelines and railing about it, Brown formed Tipping Point Education, a Canton-based “think-tank, policy-making initiative” in favor of all “post-secondary efforts that promote educating as many members of society as possible,” according to its mission statement.
“It’s based on the concept of increasing and sustaining the middle class and building thework force while trying to attract certain businesses by having a more educated populace,” said Brown, who claimed statistics show fewer than 10 percent of Detroiters, for instance, have a post-secondary education. “If major cities don’t have an educated populace, companies won’t go there.”
Brown said the idea began to kick around for her while she was recuperating last year from an illness. Part of the impetus, she said, came during an event at Wayne County Community College, where she heard a young boy ask a friend, “Do you think I could go to college?”
The idea that someone wondered whether they could get a better education tripped an alarm for Brown. “No one had ever told this little boy he could do that,” she said.
Using social media such as Twitter while recuperating, Brown started working out the plan for TPE. She said it’s about building the workforce needed to attract key businesses, such as the film and energy industries. She said it starts with giving youngsters the opportunity — and the urgency — to obtain post-secondary degrees.
She quotes a Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study that points out the percentage of the U.S. workforce requiring some level of postsecondary education is up from 28 percent in 1973 to 59 percent in 2007 and is expected to increase to 63 percent by 2018.
“We want to increase the numbers of kids who move through high school into the post-secondary arena,” Brown said. “That will change society.”
The problem for Brown is she sees a “major crisis” at the community college level, where students are seeking higher education in droves, at least partly because of the economy. People are being displaced from jobs, she said, or are seeking more education to try and better themselves.
The problem, Brown said, is funding isn’t keeping up with demand.
“People think tuition pays for community college, but it’s only about 20 percent,” Brown said. “Most of their funding is tied to property taxes.”
But money isn’t everything. The key to success, she said, is keeping students “engaged.”
“You could take all the money in the world and throw it into this plan,” Brown said. “Unless people grab it and mold it, it’s not going to work.”
Brown, whose background is in public relations, has traveled the country promoting the TPE concept. She impressed Shawn King, the wife of veteran talk show host Larry King and the chairman of the board of the Larry King Cardiac Foundation enough that King provided a testimonial.
King said too many people out of work today are “in a state of imbalance and are seeking resources and solutions.”
“This is a project and vision whose time is long overdue,” King said. “I encourage everyone to take a hands-on approach to this effort, and hope you will join us as we build the America of tomorrow.“
Brown said it’s not about pushing public education over other forms, despite her background as a public school board member. For her, it’s simply about changes she says are needed in society.
“I don’t think I’m as much of a public education advocate as I am an advocate of bringing opposing sides together to identify the real issues in order to solve the problems facing education and society,” Brown said.