DEARBORN – Academic State Champs annually recognizes great schools across Michigan. It’s tough to do that this year without also praising a community.
Forty Michigan high schools are 2019 Academic State Champs, with the award based this year on the percentage of grads who enrolled in a two- or four-year college. The kings of college enrollment are spread around the state, from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula, Saginaw to Kalamazoo.
Among those 40 schools, seven are in Dearborn and adjacent Dearborn Heights.
The fact that roughly one in six State Champ schools are in a 35-square-mile, working class patch of Wayne County offers both a message that family income is not destiny, and an opportunity for lessons: If Dearborn can get three out of four students into college, then the state can, too.
This is the eighth year Bridge has named Academic State Champs, with the criterion often changing to emphasize different challenges facing Michigan schools. This year, winners were determined on the basis of college enrollment – what percentage of high school seniors enrolled in two- or four-year colleges within six months of graduation.
Find your schools
You can search by school, district or county to see the percentage of graduates who enroll in college. Statewide, an average of 63 percent of high school grads enrolled in college over three years. To get more details about individual schools, click on the school link
Bridge chose college enrollment as the lens through which to evaluate this year’s awards based on a growing consensus among education, business and political leaders about the value of increasing college attainment rates for Michigan residents.
To be sure, not every high school grad needs (or wants) to attend college. As many of these same leaders remind us, there remains an urgent demand for skilled trade workers that may require job-related certifications but not a college degree. But as Bridge has noted for years, increasing college attainment is key to boosting Michigan’s economy. College grads on average earn more than those with just a high school diploma, and higher incomes mean more tax revenue for things like schools and roads.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set a goal of having 60 percent of working-age adults with some type of post-high school credential by 2030; the figure now stands at about 45 percent.
How likely it is for a high school grad to enroll in college varies widely among Michigan schools, from a high of 94 percent at University High School Academy in Southfield, to 11 percent at Cambridge High School in Garden City.
Alpena High School in northeast Michigan sends two out of three graduates off to college; Ottawa Hills High School in Grand Rapids sends 45 percent.
Bridge’s analysis looked at 582 high schools that had data for the three most recent academic years for which data is available – 2015-16, 2015-17 and 2017-18. One school that likely would have ranked high, the International Academy of Oakland County, was not included because the state didn’t release data for the school in one of the years used in the analysis.
Best schools by region
Click on a region to see the top 5 schools, with a link to all schools in this region.
Source: Bridge analysis of Michigan Department of Education records
Because college enrollment increases with income, Bridge sought to compare schools with similar levels of poverty. So we divided schools into four divisions based on the percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch or other types of assistance. The 10 schools in each income division with the highest percentage of grads enrolling in college were named Academic State Champs.
Among wealthy schools (where under 25 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged), Northville High School just northwest of Detroit is tops, sending 89 percent of its grads to college. Close behind are Rochester Adams in Oakland County and Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy (88 percent), and Eisenhower High School in Utica (87 percent).
Topping the list for schools where between 25 percent and 40 percent of students are considered poor is University High School Academy in Southfield (94 percent) and City Middle/High School in Grand Rapids (93 percent).
Among schools with between 40 percent and 55 percent of students considered economically disadvantaged, Detroit Renaissance High School sends 87 percent of its graduates to college. And among the lowest-income schools, Ann Arbor’s Central Academy gets 91 percent onto campus.
Wealth plays role
Schools with few poor students send far many more students to college and many more to four-year schools, state data shows. Below are the averages among nearly 600 schools in the state.
|% needy in school||Any college||Four-year||Two-year|
|< 25 %||76.9 %||54.9 %||22.1 %|
Two U.P. schools – Luther L. Wright school in Ironwood (80 percent) and Bark River-Harris Jr/Sr High School (75 percent) are champs in the middle-to-lower income division. Among the 40 winners are charter schools, schools to which students are admitted through test scores, as well as traditional public schools.
From factory floor to college assembly line
Three Dearborn schools – Dearborn High, Henry Ford Early College and Henry Ford Academy – are state champs in the middle-to-lower income division. Three more – Star International Academy, Fordson High and Edsel Ford High – are champs in the low-income division. (Star and Henry Ford Academy are charter schools.) Crestwood High School in neighboring Dearborn Heights is also a state champ in the low-income division.
Almost all of these schools send at least three out of four students to college, compared to the state average of 63 percent.
Dearborn and Dearborn Heights’ numbers particularly impress, considering there are more low-income students and more English language learners in the schools than the state average (both factors usually correlate to lower academic achievement).
Dearborn’s low-income students are not only enrolling in college, they’re succeeding at a rate higher than the state average. Among economically disadvantaged students, 36 percent earn at least an associate’s degree within six years of high school, compared to 19 percent across Michigan; another 28 percent are still pursuing a degree six years after leaving high school, compared to 12 percent in Michigan as a whole.
A number of factors came together to transform a once working-class community where kids grew up expecting to toil on auto assembly lines (Dearborn is the home of Ford Motor Company), to a region where going to college is the norm.
Dearborn is home to a community college – Henry Ford College – and the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Dearborn and Dearborn Heights also have large Arab-American and Arab immigrant populations that tend to encourage their kids to reach for the American Dream, say school officials.
“I don’t know how many times parents and students have sat in my office and the parent say to the kids, ‘I don’t want you to become like me, I don’t want you working on the assembly line. I want you to be a doctor or an engineer,’” said Edsel Ford High counselor Ibrahim Baydoun. “Education is so important in this community and in the immigrant culture.”
2019 Academic State Champs: Full Coverage
- Here are Michigan's Academic State Champs for 2019
- Search Michigan schools to see how they compare in sending grads to college
- Academic State Champs 2019 - upper income (slideshow)
- Academic State Champs 2019 - middle to upper income (slideshow)
- Academic State Champs 2019 - lower to middle income (slideshow)
- Academic State Champs 2019 - lower income (slideshow)
Making college part of high school
Students who attend the Dearborn school district also benefit from a system unique in Michigan: Dearborn Public Schools and Henry Ford College report to the same board of education. That governance model nurtures a close working relationship between the district and community college.
The result is two college-credit-gaining programs that give Dearborn students a leg up while saving their families thousands of dollars in college expenses.
The district’s Collegiate Academy program allows students from Dearborn’s three traditional public high schools – Dearborn High, Fordson and Edsel Ford – to graduate from high school in five years with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, or up to 60 credits toward a bachelor’s degree, at no extra cost. At current community college tuition rates, that’s a savings of about $9,000 while shaving up to two years off of a bachelor’s degree.
The second program is Henry Ford Early College, a district-run high school located on the Henry Ford College campus.
“It’s such a great opportunity, why would you pass it by?” said Abigail Murray, a Dearborn High senior in the College Academy program. Murray is taking one class at her high school and six at Henry Ford College. Her college courses are paid by the school district from the amount the state provides on a per-student basis to Dearborn Public Schools.
Murray hopes to attend the University of Michigan or Michigan State when she graduates from the Collegiate Academy program in 2020.
“I was always planning to go to college, but it made sense to save money up-front instead or racking up student debt, and get all these opportunities as a 17-year-old.”
Early college programs ‒ which allow students to earn an associate’s degree and a high school diploma in five years ‒ are growing in Michigan, with the Michigan Department of Education now listing 125 such programs across the state.
Being able to get an associate’s degree, or enough credits to get halfway to a bachelor’s, at no cost is critical, said Fordson High fifth-year senior Lila Assi. “There are a lot of kids here who really want to go to college but don’t have the money,” Assi said. “If you give them the opportunity to experience college for free, it benefits them and it benefits (the community).”
“I’m not the person I was when I started this program,” said Fordson fifth-year senior Sara Almuktar. “The maturity level is so much different” from high school.
Dearborn students are not only taking the college classes, they’re thriving, earning higher grade point averages at the community college than the older Henry Ford College students, according to Majed Fadlallah, principal for both the Early College and Collegiate Academy programs.
That’s because faculty at the community college and the high schools work together to make sure students are getting the instruction they need to prepare them for college work, Fadlallah said.
Beyond the two early college programs, students at the Dearborn Public School’s three traditional high schools last year also took 2,800 college classes through dual-enrollment, primarily at Henry Ford College. Dual enrollment courses are individual college classes taken by high school students with the cost picked up by the school district, rather than structured, multi-year programs.
“Even as a freshman, they (the staff) emphasizes college so much,” said Jalal Baydoun, a senior at Edsel Ford High School. “They tell you if you don’t succeed here, there’s no way you’ll succeed at the next level.”
“There’s a competitiveness about college,” said Edsel Ford senior Maxwell Marion. “People talk, ‘Oh, I’m applying to this school or that school.’ It’s very competitive in a good way.”
Early College Principal Fadlallah said he believes other Michigan school districts could learn from Dearborn and build stronger connections with nearby community colleges. Getting students exposed to college increases the chances they’ll enroll – and earn a degree.
“The lesson is this – all kids, given the opportunity, can succeed in college,” Fadlallah said. “They just need the opportunity to do so.”