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How other states are getting college dropouts to drop back in

One-in-four Michigan adults has some college credits but no degree. Yet Michigan has no statewide effort to lure dropouts back to the classroom, and in fact excludes nontraditional-age (i.e., older) students from financial aid grants that would make community colleges and public universities more affordable.

Having a degree or certificate on average increases income. A recent report estimates that 60 percent of Michigan jobs will require a post-high school credential by 2025.

What’s a state to do? Michigan can start by looking to several other states that are extending a hand to those who fell short of earning a degree back to college. Some of the programs are still too new to measure their success.

Virginia incentivizes community college students to complete a two-year associate degree before transferring to a four-year college, and helps pay the costs of a bachelor’s degree. The state offers up to $3,000 in grant money per year at participating four-year universities for transferring community college students, but only if the students first stay in community college long enough to earn an associate degree. The benefit: students who fall short of a bachelor’s degree will have an associate degree to fall back on, increasing their earnings potential. The Virginia Transfer Grant has an estimated annual cost of $1.65 million.

Tennessee has over 700,000 adults with some college but no degree, and an even lower share of adults with bachelor’s degrees or higher (27 percent) than Michigan (29 percent), both below the national average. The state recently launched a program called Tennessee Reconnect that allows college dropouts to return to the state’s technical community colleges to finish their associate degrees for free. The state also funded a campaign to locate and contact those with some college credits but no degree. Michigan community colleges and universities are starting to do the same thing, but the efforts are decentralized and do not receive state funding support.

“We’ve challenged our universities, community and technical colleges to work even harder at finding new ways to assist busy adults, particularly those who left before graduating,” Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said in announcing the plan in January.

Connecticut, through a stated-funded pilot program called Go Back to Get Ahead, gave state residents who stopped college short of a degree one free three-credit class per semester, with a maximum benefit of three free classes. More than 1,400 dropouts re-enrolled in college in 2014-15, but the program has not yet been extended beyond it’s one-year pilot.

Connecticut also created what it calls a “completion college” – a state-funded university with a primary mission of helping students who fall short of a degree at other institutions. Charter Oak State College offers online courses, and accepts transfer credits from other institutions for almost all of the credits needed to earn a degree at Charter Oak. Other states with completion colleges include Colorado, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Illinois. The number of degrees granted by completion colleges has more than doubled in the past 15 years.


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