Michigan’s college dropout dilemma

It was Wednesday of Welcome Week 2016 at Lansing Community College, and dean of student affairs Tanya McFadden was rushing from event to event. There was food, speeches and a live band.

While students milled about the campus, McFadden had her mind on another group of students. Since 2012, about 2,500 students had enrolled at LCC, come within 15 credits or less of earning a degree, only to leave without a diploma from there or any other school.

That’s the number of near-degree dropouts in just four years, at just one of the state’s 30 community colleges. And that doesn’t count students who drop out of Michigan’s 15 public universities, where only about half of students earn a degree in six years, below the national average of 59 percent.

While Michigan is about average getting students into college, the state does a lousy job keeping them there long enough to earn a degree.

In fact, 1-in-4 Michigan adults 25 or older have some college credits, but no degree, according to a Bridge Magazine analysis of U.S. Census data. That’s the highest college dropout rate in the Midwest. Nationally, Michigan ranks 28th in the percent of high school grads entering college (61 percent), but drops to 41st in graduation rates.

All told, 1.2 million Michigan residents reside in the economic limbo, often over-qualified for high school-level jobs but stopped short of the qualifications needed for degree-required jobs. Hundreds of thousands of these adults are thought to be within a few classes of earning a degree. In some cases, they have enough credits for a credential and don’t know it.

This lack of a degree costs them, on average, hundreds of thousands of dollarsover their lifetimes, and hobbles the economic progress of the state as it scrambles to fill jobs that increasingly require a post-high school degree or certificate.

Some states, such as Virginia and Tennessee, are aggressively pursuing initiatives to lure college non-completers back to campus. But Michigan, already below the national average in adults with bachelor degrees or higher (29 percent, compared with 31 percent across the U.S.) has no statewide program aimed at college dropouts, and no financial aid available for older students enrolling in community college or a public university years after high school.

RELATED: Over 28? You’ll get no student loans from Michigan

‘Low-hanging fruit’

Most experts agree that Michigan needs more college graduates for an economy in which more and more jobs require a degree.

A blue ribbon higher education workgroup in the state released a 2015 report setting a goal of 60 percent of adults with a post-high school credential by 2025. When certificates in trades like computer tech, health care or other fields are counted, an estimated 46 percent of Michigan residents over age 25 now have a certificate or two- or four-year degree (The count of certificate-holders is inexact because of the lack of clear definition of what a certificate is).

To reach its college completion goals, experts say Michigan can’t just focus on 18-year-olds. According to 2014 U.S. Census data, 24.5 percent of Michigan residents between the ages of 25 and 64 had some college credits but no degree, above the national average of 21.5 percent.

If Michigan were just average, 154,000 more adults would have degrees.

Michigan isn’t alone in struggling with high college dropout rates. Nationally, an estimated 15 million people have at least half the credits needed for a bachelor’s degree, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, a nonprofit research center that studies the link between education and workforce demands

“Economists call them low-hanging fruit,” said Andrew Hanson, senior analyst at the Georgetown center.
“You have this population, many of whom are underemployed. And it doesn’t take much effort to bring these people up to a post-secondary credential, which by so many measures is the minimum you need to make it into the middle class.”

A degree typically means more money in the bank, it’s as simple as that. The average Michigan college dropout earned 12 percent less than the average owner of a two-year associate’s degree in 2010, according to Census data analyzed by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. That equals to a $200,000 income difference over a lifetime. That shortfall is tripled when compared with a bachelor’s degree (more than a $600,000 difference over a lifetime).

The higher the credential, the lower the unemployment rate and the higher the wages, on average, Hanson said
“Part of the value is the sheepskin effect,” Hanson said. “It’s a signal to employers you have certain skills.”

On the bright side, some college is better than none at all. The average income in 2010 in Michigan for those with some college but no degree ($36,000) was higher than for those who stopped with a high school diploma ($31,000). But as the Georgetown research also notes, more than half of college dropouts “are working in high school (level) jobs,” Hanson said. “They went to college, but without a credential, they can’t put anything on their resume. These people have skills. Employers just don’t know about it.”

Hard lessons

Dean Dauphinais is learning that lesson the hard way.

The 54-year-old Grosse Pointe resident took classes at Wayne State University for two years in the 1980s before dropping out. He didn’t feel he was learning a lot, Dauphinais told Bridge, and he was short on money, so he took a job at a publishing company.

“I thought I was just taking a break” from college, Dauphinais said. “I advanced through the company without having a degree, which kind of took away the motivation.”

He worked there for 24 years. But since Dauphinais left his job three years ago, he’s been unable to find work.
“For a lot of years, I kind of forgot I didn’t have a degree because it wasn’t holding me back,” he said. “But now that I’m back in the job market at 54 years old, I wonder if the lack of a degree is keeping me from getting a job or even being interviewed. It’s almost like a scarlet letter.”

Jobs vs. degrees

In some Michigan counties, three-in-10 adults are college dropouts, compared with the national average of 21 percent. Shiawassee and Eaton counties, near Lansing, both have some college, no degree rates above 29 percent. Also north of 29 percent are Oscoda and Alpena counties in northeast Michigan.

The lowest rates of college dropouts can be found in Washtenaw County, home of Ann Arbor (20.2 percent), and the Upper Peninsula’s Baraga County (19.5 percent).

Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said some dropouts never intend to earn a degree. Instead, many attend community colleges to earn technical training certificates for various professions.

Others are what Jeff Guilfoyle of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants calls “reluctant students,” taking classes when a recession leaves them unemployed, sometimes paid for by government programs, “because they have nothing else to do.” And then “when they get jobs, they quit” school.

One glaring example occurred in Greenville, after Electrolux closed a factory in 2006 that employed almost 3,000 people. Nearby Montcalm Community College created a solar engineering program almost overnight when solar panel manufacturer United Solar Ovonic LLC announced plans to open plants employing 1,200 people.

“We had at least 60 start the program,” said Rob Spohr, vice president of academic affairs at MCC. “But the company started hiring them before they completed the program. They thought they’d come back to finish, but they were working so many hours they didn’t have time.”

When the solar panel manufacturer packed up and left town in 2012,those workers were left with no jobs and no degree to fall back on.

“When you’ve got a family and a job and working a lot of overtime, it’s tough to go to school,” Spohr said. “The problem becomes, without the credential, when the next recession comes, they’re not as insulated from displacement.
“I tell our students, you’re not getting your degree for today, you’re getting it for your 50-year-old self.”

Finding the right ‘nudge’

The share of Michigan adults who have college credits but no degree has remained stubbornly high over the past decade - 24 percent in 2005, and 24.5 percent in 2014. While studies promote the need to lure adult college dropouts back to school, “there’s a lot of inertia based on the (higher education) system being designed for traditional students,” said Georgetown’s Hanson.

Traditional students – those age 18-24, living in dorms and going to football games on weekends – now make up just half of college students in the U.S. The rest are older adults, returning to campus to increase their earning potential, many of them squeezing in classes between jobs and family responsibilities.

Lynn Blue, vice president for enrollment development at Grand Valley State University, said that in recent years the school has reached out to former students who left the Allendale campus without a degree. About 400 former students returned for degrees, either at GVSU or, through transfer of credits back to a community college, an associate’s degree. Blue characterizes that result as underwhelming.

“If you think about the number of students who stop out at community colleges and universities, it’s in the thousands per year,” Blue said. “I think (we) thought it would be low-hanging fruit, and the fact is, the majority of students don’t see themselves on a degree trajectory.”

But others may just need a nudge to graduate.

That’s the idea behind Project Win Win, a grant-funded initiative among community colleges in Michigan and eight other states that identified and reached out to former students within a few classes of earning a degree, or, in a surprising number of cases, had enough credits for a degree already.

Across the country, 6,700 former students were identified who could be awarded associate’s degrees retroactively based on credits already earned. In Michigan, “there were somewhere like 1,100 or 1,200 students who got their degree in the first phase (of the initiative),” said Chris Baldwin, former director of the Michigan Center for Student Success, an effort run out of the Michigan Community Colleges Association that coordinated Project Win Win here. “About 800 didn’t even have to do anything, just indicated they wanted (the degree).”

Grant funding for the program has stopped, but most community colleges are continuing to audit student records, looking for students who could easily finish a degree.

Credit When it’s Due is a similar grant-funded initiative focusing on former community college students who transferred to four-year universities, only to drop out before completing a bachelor’s degree. Through an audit of student records, Michigan colleges found thousands of former students who, if credits earned at four-year universities were transferred back to community colleges, qualified for a two-year associate’s degree.

Reconnecting with former students has given colleges insights into the barriers to college completion. “We have to continue to parse the 25 percent (with some college but no degree) to truly understand the barriers,” Baldwin said. “Did they come in and get some short-term training and get what they needed? Because of our blue-collar history, there may be some of that.”

Some reasons for not finishing were “shockingly mundane,” Baldwin said. “Some didn’t get a degree because they didn’t want to pay a graduation fee, so colleges are doing away with those fees.

But “the biggest reason students didn’t earn degrees (at Michigan’s community colleges) was because they didn’t take a math class,” Baldwin said.

Something as simple as encouraging students to get math requirements out of the way early can improve completion rates, Baldwin said.

McFadden said Lansing Community College is beefing up its tutoring support system around math classes. “We’re offering 24-hour tutoring and proactive case management outreach,” she said.

McFadden can relate to those math-phobic students. “I started my associate’s degree at 18 and didn’t finish until I was 33 because I was afraid of math,” she said.

“I’m telling you, there is such an opportunity here,” McFadden said. “We’re going to throw the kitchen sink at this problem.”

 

About The Author

Ron French

Ron French is Bridge senior writer, based in Lansing. He can be reached at rfrench@bridgemi.com

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Thu, 09/08/2016 - 8:05am
Is it just me, or are employers ignoring experience over education? Given the examples mentioned above, they're shooting themselves in the foot by glomming onto the notion that years of proven real world experiences is trumped by someone with a sheepskin and no experience. I don't know about anyone else here, but I'm not very sympathetic to those employers who claim to be unable to locate "qualified" employees when they (or more likely the search algorithms in the software they use to screen applicants) automatically remove job candidates because of their history. There are things that people learn in life that cannot be replicated in a classroom.
John Q. Public
Thu, 09/08/2016 - 9:39pm
It definitely isn't just you, Kevin. I've commented multiple times on that phenomenon; here's an example from a Bridge article a couple of years ago about whether college degrees cause higher earnings: Oh, yikes! Granted, my experiences are not a “study”, but nonetheless they lead me to think this is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than a causal relationship. Hundreds of applications for high-paying jobs are round-filed after they are screened for educational attainment. Employers act as if a secondary degree is some holy grail, and refuse to even interview people without one. In my own workplace, I’m surrounded by people who never would have been hired had I had my way. Talented people are ignored and compartmentalized as somehow lacking because they didn’t sit in a classroom for 2000 hours and get a parchment attesting thus. We could promote smart, dedicated people with a dozen years of hands-on experience, but we’d rather have someone with no experience and a degree. We refuse to even consider the non-degreed for high-pay employment, and then use the predictable results to conclude, “SEE! Classroom education leads to higher pay!” Demanding a bachelor of science degree in a technical field I can understand; the fascination with BA degrees I never will, and we’re overwhelmed with them.
GD
Fri, 09/09/2016 - 2:25am
Employers' experience: its only relevant experience that counts. Further, young people are easier to train and are less expensive and less demanding... It makes sense to be very careful with folks with lots of the wrong experience. Burnt before.
Robyn Tonkin
Sat, 09/10/2016 - 10:45pm
I agree, Kevin, that job experience gives you training and insight that you don't get in college. But I have never thought that employers assume that a college degree infers greater job skills. I think college degrees are used as a way to discriminate between applicants. If you have a degree, some employers make the assumption that you are able to set a long term goal (obtaining a sheepskin) and attain it. They assume that you are able to discipline yourself to work the issue of a job or a project, as you had to do coursework and pass tests in college. They assume that you are an "educated" person--that you have a certain level of literacy skills and computer skills. I sometimes think that employers prefer employees with college degrees because they have one themselves, and having a degree can have a certain snob appeal. The bottom line is that a college degree is in many ways simply a complex, extraordinarily costly, in time and money, ticket punch. I have a degree, my husband has a degree, and our daughter has a degree that we paid for one hundred percent. My view during that entire four year process as our daughter matriculated at a big ten university was that we were buying her an important life ticket punch, and we were right. Another bottom line is that you have to be able to just do it, and college can be very trying and very hard to put up with. Successfully graduating from college teaches you a lot of skills that are hard to define or quantify, but they are valuable skills non the less.
Jess
Sun, 09/11/2016 - 9:06am
As a business owner, I now know that college degrees are highly over rated at best. Most sheepskins are valueless to anybody any more. Experience is the most valuable indication of potential for any job candidate. Colleges and Universities have succeeded in rigging the system in their favor by requiring business's and us to become automatons believing that a college degree is the only thing people can count on to make their lives successful. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most college courses simply require the regurgitation of highly suspect psyschological indoctrination and testing. College graduates that I interview now naively believe that the degree automatically gives them any job interviewed for at an exhorbitant wage. If you want to understand why such a high number of students are not sticking around for a piece of paper...it might just be because business's are telling grads that colleges are misleading and giving them the wrong education. If we want students to stick around to get a degree...then colleges and universities must begin by actually teaching things that are worthwhile.
David Waymire
Fri, 08/18/2017 - 10:25pm

Jess, how many non-college grads have you hired for jobs your competitors employ grads to do? I find it interesting when people think business owners are stupid when it comes to hiring....but smart all the other times.

George
Thu, 09/08/2016 - 12:40pm
It sounds like the college level equivalent of the bias that high school students face on a voc/career track versus a college bound curriculum. Counselors and core teachers are academics and are ill-suited to counsel students on the promise of steady employment in the long term. Many community college students are continuing their vocational training after voc. high school and are much better grounded than overwhelmed students at our state run big schools. Granted voc. students don't have a sheepskins, they have jobs.
Thu, 09/08/2016 - 2:04pm
I agree with Kevin. Employers are accepting applicants with degrees and no experience over someone with some college or even associate degree and years of experience. Some of these folks don't even know how to properly answer a telephone and can't tell if they are coming or going. They are willing to spend money on training them and suffer through trial and error before they finally, if at all, understand what is required to do the job correctly.
duane
Sun, 09/11/2016 - 1:02am
There are many barriers to earning a degree, and a few were alluded to in the article. Because of the limits on such an article they couldn't mention much about what they are doing to address those issues or ask for ideas that might be tried to address the barriers that have been identified. That is disappointing because I believe there are many that have done what the colleges are hoping to do and they would be excellent resources for better understanding the barriers, as sources of practical how's and why's they succeeded, and they could be a valuable people part of the solution. Who better to mentor those facing the challenges of completing a degree after leaving school short of earning a degree than someone who has done it? The article has also help to uncover another barrier. Reading the comments, it seems there is a perception that 'employers' don’t place sufficient emphasis on knowledge/skills learned outside the classroom by normal living and working. The reality is that these commenters are describing an external barrier to earning a degree, lack of community appreciation of why employers use degrees and how a degree enhances life’s lesson. Maybe the schools need to make a case [addressing that perception] to the students they want to come back about how a degree helps the employer thus helps them. Maybe the schools need address this by developing a degree program that enhances managing work, maybe they need to work with employers identifying knowledge and skills that would add value in the workplace. For employers that compete globally it may be classes on global competition and how creativity and productivity are what can provide an advantage over labor and foreign governmental cost advantages. It appears our K-12 schooling has created a fear or mystery about math, maybe schools could create classes about the practical application of statistics/statistical control, algebra, inventory control, return on capital, etc. In any organization where people interact with people inside/outside the organization communication skills can be very valuable, why not practical communication classes. If the needs of students have changed maybe the schools need to present how dynamic their programs/degrees/certifications to employers, the communities, and the students recognize as valuable? The schools at all levels need to ‘brand’ college by how helping people understand the intrinsic [beyond the particular knowledge and skills of each degree] value gained while earning a degree. This is truer today than ever before with the changing access to information, the need for speed in gathering information and making decisions, the moving of the decision point closer to the activity [people can’t wait to be told, they need to act now]. I wonder if the people from the colleges have identified the intrinsic values, if they can describe how earning is a telltale about the potential success of a person as an employee, if they can describe the practical application of the particular knowledge and skills of their schools degrees.
Sun, 09/11/2016 - 9:13pm
I've got to wonder, since the start of Commom Core could it be our students arent nearly as ready as they use to be? I've seen many students come through not knowing basic science, math, history or how to write a coherent paper. Something I did see students know how to do before it began to seriously decline around 2013. Just a thought.
Anna
Thu, 09/15/2016 - 3:51pm
Beatrix, the Common Core (and the accompanying 21st Century Science Standards) are not the source of the problems you point out. It *is* intended to be part of the solution. CCSS for English Language Arts require students to write more prose and more analytical papers, vs. the discussion and analysis of fiction that has previously dominated K-12 ELA. CCSS in math require students to learn about fewer topics in mathematics, but that students master those topics in depth, not merely be "familiar" with the concept. If you are in Michigan, and you date the decline in recent graduates' skills to post-2013, I suggest the problem is that the high school graduates of 2012 through about 2022 will have begun school under one set of curriculum standards, and will have had to switch to a substantially more rigorous set of standards during their K-12 school career. In a number of cases I have seen, especially in writing, science and math, many students were well behind where the new curriculum standards expected them to be when they encountered the new course work.
duane
Fri, 09/16/2016 - 2:02am
Anna, Have you ever pause to wonder why so many people have become resistant to 'common core' and how it has become a lightening rod for people frustration with the system? Your description sounds good, but it doesn't seem to be resonating with the public. I think the proponents of 'common core' assume too much and make the case to the 'choir'. Personally, I believe in the value of having learning being at a consistent level across the country, what I am disappointed in is the a seeming detachment of personal application of the topics. Life/living isn't just reading, writing, math, and science. Learning and apply is just passing standardized test established independent of local considerations. The premise of 'common core' maybe good, but the message and its delivering doesn't appear to be as effective.
Anna
Thu, 09/15/2016 - 5:08pm
During the Great Recession, many people found it impossible to get a job and went back to school. Many of the people who are now working without a degree entered Michigan community colleges and a few of our universities intending to take a class or two to update their existing skills or to extend their skill set to make them more employable. Too few of them completed the programs they enrolled in, but enough found new jobs to have reduced the very high unemployment rate we experienced then. The ones who successfully found employment after taking a few classes are generally happy, and unmotivated to pursue additional education not directly applicable to their work or their personal interests just for the sake of having a degree. While society might benefit if there was both more pressure and more support from their employers to complete their degrees, we don't want to "cheapen" those credentials by making reducing degree requirements significantly. Over the years, many Michigan citizens graduated from high school without much of a plan for their future beyond "getting a good job". The economic and academic top 50-60% were probably pressured by their parents and teachers to go to college of some sort, and given open-admissions community colleges, they very probably did so. For a while. But without a career plan, there was little reason for them to study hard when the going got tougher. Without adequate high school preparation, especially in math and in writing, they may not have been ready to earn college credits right off the bat, which made their path to a degree even longer and more expensive. Too many dropped out when the classes get a bit harder, or when they found a job that would support them. Some of the female ones may have dropped out because they get pregnant and find the juggle of classes and child care too difficult and completely unaffordable. Many, many technical certificate and BS programs use their math requirements to weed out weaker candidates. At the same time, the relatively low level of mathematical knowledge and high levels of math anxiety among K-12 teachers leads directly to low levels of mathematical mastery and high levels of math anxiety among our high school graduates. We have inadvertently created a school system that churns out high school graduates who literally cannot complete their degrees without extreme effort. Machinists and layout inspectors don't only need to be good at Algebra II; they have to thoroughly master trigonometry as well as being able to solve systems of equations in 3 or more variable. Liberal arts and business students may not need to learn calculus, but they really do need to learn statistical analysis and how to interpret data. On the other hand, colleges and universities typically require students to write persuasive and/or analytical papers in almost all their non-math courses. The students in math, science and technology classes must write lab reports, research papers, and also share their analysis of a problem in writing. Standardized tests report that only about 10-12% of Michigan's recent high school graduates were able to write at a "ready for college success" level on the ACT or SAT. Too many Michigan students graduate unable to use standard English grammar and vocabulary, and are unfamiliar with language conventions used in non-fiction writing. This deficiency too can be laid at the door of our K-12 education system. Students learn to write well by completing a draft, getting feedback, and revising their writing, and repeating the process if necessary. This takes both class time and grading time, especially in schools where students don't all have access to a word processor or computer at home. When a high school English or history teacher has 5 classes per day with 35 students per class, there just won't be enough hours in the semester to review and grade a 3 page paper from each student every week. If we want more Michigan citizens with degrees, it will take BOTH lots of support from the colleges and universities and significantly upgrading the skills and knowledge of Michigan's K-12 teachers. To overcome the roadblock to a degree that poor math and writing skills create for so many newly-graduating Michiganders, we must also end social promotion, especially after students are 16. We must upgrade both teacher mathematics knowledge and pedagogical skills. We must provide remedial interventions when students fall behind their peers, providing those students with practice at their challenge level and frequent, skillful feedback to get them up to grade level. It will take fewer students per English teacher and more in-class writing assignments in every school. It will take both more theory and much more practical math applications practiced in classrooms. But this is what's needed to meet the economic challenges we're facing.
duane
Fri, 09/16/2016 - 2:17am
Anna, The case isn't being made to the students and their families that learning has an immediate and long-term value. Have you considered by kids going out for athletics will invest grueling hours during the school year to be on a team even though they aren't a star nor will play at the next level? That is a ready made model of engaging the students, their parents, the community, now how to we translate it to academics is the question that needs to be addressed. Athletic have measurable and visible goals, they have personal and immediate feedback, they engage the whole of the class, parents, and much of the community, etc. Why doesn't the education system try to help local schools to something similar for academics? Athletics are built on habits, why aren't the schools building 'good habits' for academic success? Whether it is K-12 or adult learning it is people that determine whether they learn or not and unless the subjects are frame so they want to learn they won't.
Megan
Wed, 02/01/2017 - 9:14am

Is this taking into account private 4 years, as well? Or is the data just showing for 2 year and 4 year public institutions?

Ann Whitman
Thu, 06/08/2017 - 10:29pm

Shortly after I graduated from High School in 1977, I attended CMU!! 4 years later in 1981 I decided to drop out of college and that Fall I got my MRS degree...that's right I got married!! Here's what happened...My freshman year I thought I wanted to be a teacher...my sophomore year I set my sites on Interior Design and joined the IET Club...my design classes were tough for me...I had the artistic ability but I froze taking tests and my sleepless nights trying to finish my design boards burned me out. I got on academic probation and spent my Junior year taking classes over and cleaning up my GPA. So by the time my senior year rolled around I was back on track but needed another year to finish. I was frustrated with my Interior Design courses. Later it was found that my design instructor was lacking credentials to teach and she was gone within a year. So I can understand why someone quits college before obtaining their degree....life happens!! Or more like shit happens!! I always thought about returning to college to graduate and I finally did in 2002. After a divorce I applied for a Displaced Homemaker grant at MMCC and graduated with an Associates degree in Computer Information Systems. One thing I've learned is never give up!! Check to see what Grants are available...some require an essay on a certain topic and possibly to speak before a minimal amount of people. Would I like to get my 4-year degree?? Sure. In 2011 I took a 9 month online course in Medical Insurance Billing & Coding!! I graduated from the class, but I didn't pass the 5 hour grueling Michigan coding exam. So here I am nearing 59 years of age and can't seem to land a career. I've been laid-off numerous times and 2 businesses I worked for Are no longer in business. It's not like I'm not trying to be gainfully employed...but the phone never rings and interviews I feel I nailed seem to turn up nothing!! I'm burned out!!

Chuck Fellows
Sat, 08/19/2017 - 8:09am

Why? If obtaining an academic degree is the ruling social meme why are individuals dropping out? Is it possible that the "product" being provided (at great expense) no longer meets the needs of the individual? Is it possible that the "product" is no longer relevant in the 21st century?
Product = the academic curriculum presented using a pedagogy that actually kills creativity, imagination, innovation, curiosity and intrinsic motivation.

Dear Educational Industry, stop looking externally for a problem. Look in the mirror. Your means and methods are no longer relevant. Individuals have been "dropping out" for over a century in quantities from 30 % and higher from the K-20 systems. Yeah, there is a problem alright, but it's not" out there".

Kent
Sat, 08/19/2017 - 8:53am

The math problem exists in the high school drop out population as well, especially among GED candidates who fear the math exam and will often successfully complete the other required exams in language arts, science, and social studies but fail the math exam and do not try again. Michigan has now lost two generations of students to low levels of mastery and ranks 41st in the nation on NEAP test scores in 4th and 8th grade reading and math scores. Rabid unionization, retention of non-performing educators and redundant layers of school districts and services siphon funds AWAY from the classroom. Virginia, by comparison, has no public employee unions and only one school district per county even though it is a state of similar size and diverse demographics.
There are both large urban and suburban districts and remote rural districts and a very diverse population. This year, Virginia ranks 6th in the nation in education. As a recently retired high school teacher who has taught in both states for many years, I would choose Virginia every time. Michiganders are living in denial regarding the long term effects of entrenched unionization on our workforce and our ability to compete with other states, let alone other nations. The brain drain of our best and brightest students away from Michigan and the antiquated system of redundant, unionized school districts continues to fail our students. The same problem is exacerbated at the community college and adult education levels as well, where funding 'count days' are the name of the game and the drop out rate is stunning. There is almost a perverse incentive to keep students on these treadmills to continue to fund staff jobs. There is little or no performance accountability in either system for faculty, administrators, or State of Michigan Department of Education employees who are employed by taxpayers to oversee outcomes and results of educational funding. Education is not a 'make work' jobs program and until Michigan residents recognize the competitive weaknesses in the current system she will continue to fail young people and see the brain drain of the best and brightest spirited away by other states that offer a better educational system for their own children and lower rates of taxation. Thirty states (including Virginia) have NO township government at all. We no longer live in horse and buggy days when it was a day's horseback ride between districts or townships. County units of government and districting offer more than enough 'local control'. Michigan is burdened by rabid unionization, redundant school districts, and layers of state and local government that result in a state unable to effectively compete for new business due to high taxation to support these entities, infrastructure in dangerous condition, and a population that continues to age and decline in skill levels.