A little more than 50% of Michigan residents aged 25 to 64 had a credential, associate degree, college degree or higher in 2021, according to new data released by the Lumina Foundation.
That’s slightly up from 49.1% in 2019. The organization did not release 2020 data.
About 53.7% of Americans hold a credential higher than a high school diploma, says the Indianapolis-based foundation, which conducts research on post-secondary education. Two counties in Michigan — Oakland and Washtenaw — exceed the national average, at 60.8% and 66.0%, respectively.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer can claim incremental progress toward her administration’s Sixty by 30 goal. The governor wants 60% of working-age Michigan residents to have graduated from a post-high school education or training program by 2030 — a goal that reflects an assertion from the Lumina Foundation.
“By 2025, 60 percent of adults in the United States will need some quality credential beyond high school,” the foundation predicts on its website.
Michigan’s below-average performance is not for lack of government spending. Taxpayers partially fund 15 four-year and 31 two-year public colleges each year. State officials want to spend even more to encourage Michigan residents to get credentials. In 2020, Whitmer created a tuition-free community college program called Futures for Frontliners, aimed at people who worked in certain industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers created another program through which Michigan residents age 25 and older can go to community college or a certificate program at no additional cost to them, as long as they haven’t already earned a degree. The governor would like to lower the eligibility age to 21 for that program, which is called Michigan Reconnect.
Michigan Achievement Scholarships are new, too. Starting in 2023, Michigan high school graduates and GED holders will receive scholarships up to $27,500 to pay for university or $8,250 to pay for community college.
These programs are in addition to assistance from the federal government. Federal assistance includes defraying the cost of loans to pay for tuition, offering Pell grants (which do not need to be repaid) to low-income students and providing a variety of other ways to pay for school or have student loans forgiven.
The new programs may help Michigan close the gap between the current post-high school education rate and the national average.
But evidence to evaluate the programs is lacking.
As of August 2021, more than 120,000 people had applied for Futures for Frontliners, and more than 15,000 of them had enrolled in classes. Unfortunately, the state has not published any data about how these students are doing.
Graduation is one metric Michigan taxpayers can use to evaluate the success of the scholarship program. The average time for Michigan students to complete an associate degree is four years, according to MI School Data.
It is fair to expect that Futures for Frontliners participants may fare similarly, though it is possible diligent students have completed an associate degree since enrollment opened in January 2021.
Another way to evaluate the program is by assessing how many students are still sticking with their degree pursuit, even if they haven’t graduated yet. This is sometimes called “persistence.”
A third metric is grade point average, which will reflect scholarship recipients’ dedication to their studies.
The state of Michigan offers information about the first two metrics, completion and persistence, on the website MI School Data. These data relate only to Michigan high school graduates.
The state should also publish data about participants in Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect. These are new, untested, expensive efforts designed to reach a seemingly arbitrary level of average education in the state. Even Michiganders who share Whitmer’s view on expanding the role of government in post-high school education have an interest in knowing whether these programs are moving the state toward this goal.
Taxpayers should be able to evaluate the performance of the programs for themselves. To help them do that, the Mackinac Center will be filing public records requests to explore graduation, persistence and academic performance metrics for participating students.
The Lumina Foundation’s data show a slight uptick in Michigan’s post-high school education rate. Information about students in Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect will help us predict whether that trend will continue.
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