Little action in Lansing to increase college degrees



A report released last December offered Michigan a roadmap for how to boost the education and skill levels of its residents.

What’s happened since is more like a roadmap for how to ignore reports.

The exhaustive study, completed by Michigan education, business and advocacy leaders, as well as government officials from both parties, “Reaching for Opportunity: An action plan to increase Michigan’s postsecondary credential attainment,” called for a half-billion-dollar infusion of state cash to get more students to finish college or other programs after high school, which experts say would boost the state’s economy.

But nearly a year later, little or no additional state funding can be traced to the report’s funding recommendations, and the only bill related to a policy recommendations is bottled up in a Senate committee.

“I’m frustrated,” said Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, who helped draft the 2015 report. “I’m frustrated that the legislature hasn’t taken on more of the agenda, particularly as it relates to financial student aid.”



The 64-page report paints a portrait of a state twiddling its thumbs while being passed economically by other states with higher percentages of adults with a post-high school degree or credential.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: “Sink or Swim: Higher education is key to Michigan’s future.”

The report called for Michigan to more than triple student financial aid, from the current $105 million per year to $480 million. Michigan students currently pay the sixth-highest average tuition to attend four-year public universities in the nation, while the amount of state financial aid Michigan provides students ranks 41st in the U.S. For example, Minnesota spends $736 in financial aid per student, compared with $233 spent by Michigan. (About 31 percent of Minnesota adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared with about 24 percent of Michigan residents).

Financial aid was not increased in the state budget passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder this past spring, which was the budget cycle following the release of the report.

The only policy recommendation made in the report that made it into the Legislature is a bill that would require high school counselors to receive 25 hours of training in college prep and selection. House Bill 4552 passed the House in January, but has been sitting in the Senate Education Committee without a vote for eight months.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: “Education leaders agree: High school students need better counseling”

“There’s a lot of policy recommendations (such as the counseling bill) that wouldn’t cost much at all,” said Johnson, whose group promotes post-high school degrees or credentials for Michigan students.

Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, House Democratic Floor Leader, also served on the committee, formerly called the Michigan Postsecondary Credential Attainment Workgroup, which produced the 2015 report. (Members are listed here)

“The key to our future is increasing the education attainment of our people at all levels,” Singh said in December when the report was released. “If we fail to do that, we will continue to be a relatively poor state, susceptible to economic swings.”

Nine months later, Singh said he can’t point to any action the Legislature has taken as a response to the report.

“You can’t make a direct correlation” between the report and action in Lansing, Singh told Bridge. “There are a number of things being worked on, such as making it easier to transfer of credits (from community college to public universities) and work on getting more student (college) advising. But when you look at the big ticket items, such as more resources for financial aid, that has not come forward yet.”

Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who chairs the state Senate’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, also helped produce the report. In an email response to questions, Schuitmaker did not list any legislative actions spurred by the report, but wrote, “We remain committed to reinvestment in our universities and our efforts to hold them accountable for their spending. In the last five years, state support for higher education is up, tuition restraint has held costs down, and graduation rates are improving.

“A college degree is one important path to a successful career, but it is only one of many,” Schuitmaker added. “I have been a strong supporter of improving career and technical education to prepare our students for the high demand jobs of a tech-based economy.”

Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said “it was great that the report put more emphasis on the issue (of college access and completion), but I can’t think of anything that has happened legislatively because of the report.”

Schools say they are acting

Outside of Lansing, though, colleges and universities are implementing some of the report’s recommendations, Hansen said.

Community colleges and four-year public universities are working more closely to simplify credit transfer. And college advisors, through the AdviseMI program run by the Michigan College Access Network, are being placed in rural and low-income schools across the state to provide the type of college guidance that school counselors often don’t have time to provide. Both efforts predate the Reaching for Opportunity report, but have grown since its publication.

A web portal operated by Michigan Higher Education Partnership, a group that includes some of the state leaders who produced the report, called, offers potential college students and their families links to college and career information.

The report also has helped reframe policy discussion in Lansing, even if those discussions haven’t yet led to new state investment, said MCAN’s Johnson.

“It’s baby steps,” Johnson said. “It’s changed the tone and rhetoric in Lansing. People are starting to realize that in order to land a job in Michigan, a high school diploma won’t cut it.”


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Thu, 09/15/2016 - 8:27am
I didn't bother reading this but can state with certainty that we know how to give people degrees. We no longer know how to give them a college education.
Kevin Grand
Thu, 09/15/2016 - 11:40am
"Create a simplified, consolidated, enhanced need-based financial aid program that puts Michigan among the top ten states in financial aid. This would mean, over time that Michigan increases its state financial aid commitment to $480 million dollars annually. " No one has tackled these questions yet. So, I'll toss them to Mr. French. If you want to look at "need-based" on the student side of the equation, why not the school itself? U of M is sitting on a $10-billion endowment. MSU is sitting on a $2.5-billion endowment. Both of those endowments are growing. How do you sell their need to the public when they are already have considerable assets to draw upon? And even providing that you do convince the general public, where should that money come from? Cuts in other areas of the state budget, new taxes or both?
David Waymire
Thu, 09/15/2016 - 1:46pm
Erwin, thank you for reminding us that Libertarianism is a religion, not a useful or even mindful construct of how to improve the life of an average person. For that you need to consult data to test your preconceived notions and then adjust those notions as things change over time. You appear to be unwilling to even read the article before commenting. But then, dogmatic folks are like that.
John Q. Public
Thu, 09/15/2016 - 11:51pm
While I disagree with your characterization, David, you're absolutely correct in your conclusion, although not in the pejorative sense you intend. Libertarianism at its very core demands individual responsibiity as an adjunct to individual rights, and individual responsibility is something the average person wants no part of. When practiced by above-average people willing to embrace individual responsibility, though, libertarianism yields some really fabulous results. Why, I know a couple of millionaire libertarians who--believe it or not--didn't even go to college!
Mon, 09/19/2016 - 12:07pm
Did you mean Liberals? Most libertarians I know are agnostic or skeptics when it comes to social theories, the true believers I know come from the liberal/progressive/Neo-Marxist side of the fence.
Sun, 09/18/2016 - 2:33am
Michigan could offer many more college classes and programs for little added cost if they would just change the regulations so high schools could offer college classes easier. Our high school are filled with excellent teachers who are well qualified, and often experienced, to teach college classes. In the states where this has been done ("Concurrent Enrollment") many students combine college classes with regular high school classes in their own high school. This saves time, money and opens opportunities to students who cannot afford to drive to a college or university. Also under the current dual enrollment the state has mandated schools to pay for college classes but offer no extra funding to cover these high costs. This is even more reason to allow these schools to offer the college classes themselves which also motivate students to take high school more seriously and to do much better academically.
Tue, 09/20/2016 - 9:06am
Michael, you are dead wrong in thinking that *many* high school teachers are well-qualified to teach college-level, concurrent enrollment classes. While I'm sure that maybe 5-7% of current teachers could both qualify and do that well, an MA degree in Education is not a sufficient credential to teach any discipline but education at the college level. In addition, concurrent enrollment /dual credit classes held off the college campuses are extremely problematic to many accreditation bodies, and are pretty strongly discouraged by the best of them. Giving students a small head start on college should not cost the colleges their ability to accept Federal funds, or to have their graduates be eligible for professional licenses. If Michigan school districts without nearby colleges and universities want to give their brightest students a start on college credits while still in high school, there are plenty of AP classes that could be taught in high schools for no additional cost whatsoever. Even if a school district funds the (optional) AP exams for their students to try for college credit, it's still less than $100 per student additional cost. If there are no qualified teachers for a particular AP class or a 100-level college class in a school district, there's always Michigan Virtual School. They charge families ~$250 per class per semester and charge school districts less than half that amount. Michigan Virtual classes are also typically lower in cost than most school districts' charges for summer school or "credit recovery" classes. I've been told that the law was changed so that AP and other college-level classes delivered through Michigan Virtual University will count for at least "distribution" credit at Michigan public colleges and universities if the student scores 4 or 5 on the relevant AP or high enough on the college's placement exam. to warrant this.
Fred Stonehouse
Sun, 09/18/2016 - 10:09pm
If education is the goal then eliminate big time athletics and focus on true academic preparation. And as long as I am delusional then why not control administrative growth too......but that's not going to happen thus we are trapped in the death spiral...
Tue, 09/20/2016 - 9:19pm
I wonder how confident the colleges/universities and their supporters are that graduation rates can be solved by more money. Would the college/universities be willing to return all the additional requested funding if at the end of 6 years the graduation rates [verified by the schools and state] haven’t increased by at least a third [33% higher than current completion rates]? Mr. French I am not clear on what report was an ‘exhaustive study’, was it the linked Michigan Post secondary Credential Attainment or some other report? I am curious what you mean when you call a report and ‘exhaustive study’, did you mean by ‘exhaustive’ that the study investigate all possible reason for why students don’t complete degreed/certification programs including costs? Did the study investigate why the lower cost community colleges have a graduation rate of half the four year degree programs and less than a third of the even more expensive advanced degree programs?