Fewer grads moving on to college

When it comes to education after high school, Michigan is falling behind the nation in sending graduates to college.

In the 2013-14 school year, 65.7 percent of high school grads enrolled in college within six months of their graduation, according to the Department of Education.

Since then, that number has declined each year, with 60.8 percent of high school grads enrolling in college within the six-month timeframe in 2016-17.

Meanwhile, the national average was 69.7 percent in 2015-16, according to the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Higher education experts say the statistics are worrisome, and several programs are working to encourage more high school grads to go to college.

“There are some policy mechanisms, but then there’s also a broader messaging aspect, a campaign,” said Daniel Hurley, chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Hurley is bringing before his board of directors, which represents the 15 public universities, a proposal for a campaign to promote the value of a college degree to individuals and the state.

Education organizations need to change high school students’ understanding of what they need to get a good job, said Robert Murphy, the association’s director of university relations and policy.

“Part of the challenge with Michigan is that for years and years, the option was to walk out of high school, go down the street to the factory, get a job on the line, retire in 25 years with a place up north and buy a boat,” he said. “That’s not the model that works anymore.”

He said, “Unless you have some sort of post-high school education, it’s much harder than it used to be to get that middle-class lifestyle, to get that place up north of Clare.”

The association partners with other education-related organizations, including the Michigan College Access Network and Local College Access Networks, to promote higher education.

For example, Local College Access Networks “create a culture of college-going,” Murphy said.

“They place advisers in rural and urban low-income schools to help encourage college applications and FAFSA (federal financial aid) application completions particularly.”

The state universities group hired a director of student success initiatives who works with the Michigan College Access Network and provides expertise about college access and affordability, Murphy said.

As part of its effort to improve the public school system, the Department of Education is working to get more high school grads into college.

The department implemented a plan to make Michigan a top-10 education state in 10 years, according to William DiSessa of its Office of Public and Governmental Affairs.

“Part of that plan calls for focusing on the ‘whole child’ to improve student achievement and for making students college- and career-ready by increasing their pathways to success,” DiSessa said.

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