In Michigan, path to elite colleges flows through richer high schools (interactive map)

Silos of success

Use the map to see where last year’s high school graduates are attending college, and how many of those are in “selective” colleges or universities with more rigorous admissions standards. Scroll through the map and click on the dots or enter schools in a search bar in the upper right.

Source: Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information

The school year is barely underway, and parents throughout Michigan already are knee-deep in the college application planning process.

Where should their children apply? Can they get in? A two-year community college or Michigan State?

Bridge Magazine took an exhaustive look at state data showing where nearly 102,000 high school graduates from 2016 attended college. The records are instructive because they reveal

enrollment patterns within schools and districts and among different demographic groups.

The data demonstrate yet again that not all high schools are created equal in preparing students for future success. In some districts, nearly every graduate enrolled in college. And in others, very few did.

For instance, high schools in Oakland County, one of the wealthiest counties in the state, sent 740 students to the University of Michigan, the state’s most selective public school. That’s the most of any county and, overall, 5 percent of all the county’s grads went to U-M.

In contrast, Wayne County, which has both wealthy suburbs and the high-poverty district of Detroit, saw just 2.4 percent of grads head to U-M.

As it is with student test scores, poverty –  and wealth –  were predictors of success. Detroit students had far fewer attend college than those across the state, and charter schools in poorer areas sent fewer students than those in wealthier areas.

First, some the good news: 62 percent high school graduates are going to college, including nearly 40 percent headed to four-year schools. Twenty-three percent enrolled in two-year colleges.

But Michigan has a dismal rank in the overall percentage of adults with a college degree (27.8 percent, 31st in the nation) and many have said the state must increase that percentage to bolster the state’s economy.

Below are a few of the takeaways from the data. Use the interactive map above to see where and how many children from high school enrolled in one of the state’s 15 public colleges and universities, what percentage of grads enrolled in any college and what percent of the college-bound are headed to a in-state or national “selective” college or university, which is defined as one with rigorous admissions standards, typically accepting those with score in the top 20 percent of admissions tests.

In Michigan, eight colleges and universities are considered selective: Calvin, Hillsdale, Hope and Kalamazoo colleges; Kettering, Michigan State, Michigan Tech universities and UM-Ann Arbor.

Many paths to summit (but wealth helps)

A handful of high schools around Michigan send a majority of their college-bound to highly selective schools such as those in the elite Ivy League, the University of Michigan and Michigan State.

Indeed, a map of where most U-M and MSU students come from in Michigan is basically a map of the wealthier areas of the state. Experts say those who make more money are more likely college-educated themselves, a predictor of a child’s post-high school path.

Perhaps the most successful school at producing the most graduates ready to attend the best schools is the International Academy of Oakland County, located on three campuses with students coming from 13 districts. It offers the rigorous international baccalaureate diploma.

More than two-thirds of its 307 college-bound were headed to a “selective” school, including 84 heading to U-M, the most from any one high school. (Northville high sent 76 students and Troy and Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor each sent 70.)

Three IA students were headed to Yale and one each to Penn, Dartmouth, Cornell and Brown; three were headed to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and others to the University of Chicago, Williams College and Northwestern.

Statewide, just 19 percent of college-bound enrolled in a select college.

But only a few IA students are considered poor –  just 5 percent qualified for a subsidized lunch, a fraction of the 40 percent eligible statewide.

Two other baccalaureate programs did extremely well. Over half of the college-bound at Washtenaw International High School headed to select colleges, as did half of the grads the International Academy of Macomb County.

Other high schools with large proportions heading to select schools: All four Ann Arbor high schools (Community, Pioneer, Skyline and Huron), Seaholm High School in Birmingham, East Grand Rapids High School, Grosse Pointe South High School and Bloomfield Hills High School.

Charter schools struggle, succeed

All told, the state’s charter schools send far fewer graduates to college, 47 percent compared to 62 percent statewide. But charters also serve a student body that is poorer – roughly two-thirds are eligible for a free or reduced lunch, compared to 41 percent of students at traditional public schools.

And though some charters have very low rates of college enrollment, others have high ones, such as Star International Academy in Dearborn, where 86 percent of the 95 graduates headed to college. Arbor Preparatory Academy in Ypsilanti and Central Academy in Ann Arbor, as well as Black River Public School in Holland all sent more than 80 percent of grads to college.

The two largest charter high schools, Old Redford (46 percent) and Cesar Chavez (39 percent) in Detroit, saw fewer than half of students enroll in either a four-year or a two-year college or university, well below the state average.

Kings of Detroit? Sparty on!

Detroit schools, both traditional and charters, are sending far more students to East Lansing than Ann Arbor.

All told, nearly 250 graduates of Detroit high schools enrolled at Michigan State in 2016, nearly five times as many as did at U-M (54).

Leading the way were 65 grads from Cass Tech and 60 from Renaissance High, the magnet school jewels of the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Another 14 grads from the district’s King High School made their way to MSU.

U-M picked up 16 grads from Cass Tech and 13 from Renaissance, as well as 14 from charter schools in the city.

More good news: Of those headed to college, 63 percent of Detroit college-bound graduates are headed to a four-year school, well above the state average of 40 percent.

But the bad news is just 41 percent of all grads are headed to college of any type, well below the statewide average.

Other top destinations for Detroit students: Wayne State (168), Eastern Michigan (146) and Western Michigan (96). Upper Peninsula schools were not a big draw: just 4 went to Michigan Tech, three to Northern Michigan and none to Lake Superior State.

Battle of Green and Blue, part II

All told, MSU drew 4,719 of its incoming freshmen from across the state, coming from 482 public high schools. U-M, which has a far higher proportion of out-of-state students, enrolled 2,732 from 434 Michigan public high schools.

MSU draws 70 percent of its student body from Michigan, compared to 51 percent for U-M.

At most schools, more students headed to Michigan State. But at 134, there were more headed to U-M. The biggest imbalance is where you’d expect it – Ann Arbor. Pioneer (70-29), Huron (57-21) and Skyline (42-27) high schools.

But MSU led big in a few places as well, including  East Lansing High School (51-8), Clarkston (58-20), Stoney Creek in Rochester (68-32) and Grosse Pointe North (52-16) high schools.

Magnet schools draw top students

Magnet schools in Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Detroit are doing what you’d expect – attracting students who succeed and get into the best colleges.

Graduates at Grand Rapids City Middle/High School did as well as peers from the city’s wealthier suburbs – East Grand Rapids and the Forest Hills district’s three high schools. Eighty-eight percent of City Middle grads headed to college and more than 41 percent went to a select four-year school. Twelve of the 67 college-bound grads were headed to Ann Arbor; seven to MSU – and one to Harvard.

Saginaw’s Arts and Sciences Academy saw nearly 90 percent of grads head to college – and 82 percent of those went to a four-year college or university. A third of the college bound were headed to the state and nation’s best schools – MSU, U-M, Michigan Tech and Kettering in Michigan, but also Boston University and Emerson College in Boston.

And in Detroit, two magnet schools, which draw from across the city, sent hundreds of students to college in 2016 and more than a third of the college bound at Cass Tech and Renaissance were headed to select schools, though Renaissance (87 percent) had more graduates go to college than Cass Tech (57 percent); just 32 percent of all other DPS grads went to college in the year after graduation.

Kalamazoo reaps rewards of Promise

The two public high schools in Kalamazoo, where more than half the students are poor, are sending far more graduates to college than schools with similar poverty levels.

The reason may be obvious: the city’s schoolchildren have benefitted from the Kalamazoo Promise since 2005. It offers to pay the college tuition of every graduate, depending on how long they were enrolled in the district.

Both Loy Norrix and Central high schools sent more than 70 percent of grads to college, well above the rate (54 percent)  for schools with similarly poor student bodies.

Regional universities

Michigan’s colleges and universities attract students from across the state. But some universities draw more heavily than others from their own regions and offering a chance at higher education that might not be there otherwise.

At Saginaw Valley State University just outside Saginaw, nearly 70 percent of incoming Michigan students in 2016 came from schools within 75 miles of the school. At Ferris State, north east of Grand Rapids, more than half of the Michigan students came from schools within that range.

At Oakland University, just east of Pontiac, 95 percent of students come from within 75 miles; however, that range covers the most populated region in the state as well.

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Ralph Pasola
Thu, 09/14/2017 - 11:18am

This is why the poor can't get a leg up. There is no equality in education. There can't be. The rich/elite provide their children with extra tutors, trips and experiences that the bottom 40% -60%
can't afford. The extras prevent kids from the upper 20% from falling into a lower social/income quintile - upward and downward mobility has just about been eliminated in the U.S.

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 6:48pm


Most of us, when we are young, learn from those we see regularly ['what you do speaks so loudly I can't heard what you are saying'].
How many college graduates to the students in the 'poor' districts meet during a week? How many do you think the kids in 'wealthy' districts see? The students in the 'wealthy' districts are more likely to see more regularly [parents, neighbors, friends of parents, parents of kids they are friends with, parents at school events, etc.]. Both by the number and knowing them helps them to realize that college is something that helps people financially, that is it something the students can do if so many they know have don't, etc.

The 'wealth' of the district is what drives the student success, it is the people who have earn their financial success with an education. Money in the schools in not so important that if can overcome the local culture the supports and reinforces learning.

If you want more students from 'poor' districts you need to help them to regularly meet, talk, and work with people that have STEM degrees, so the kids can see who has, how they have been used, and who can earn them.

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 7:09am

Ralph- It is not as simple as you state, money really has little to do with it. It is family background, dediacation to learning, and in the inner cities much of it has to do with comfortable generational poverty. Look at Southfield Schools, they are regularly in the top 10 in the State for Per Pupil Spending, yet they score at or below on State Academic Tests and less than 50% of graduates go on to College or Community College.

robyn tonkin
Sun, 09/17/2017 - 2:06pm

where on earth did you get the idea that poverty is ever comfortable.

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 6:31pm

'Poverty' is relative, ask any person in 'poverty' in Latin or South America if the people in 'poverty' in North America are 'poor' and be surprise when they tell you it seems like 'middle class' compare to where they live.

Another way to look at 'comfort' is to look at what people are willing to do to leave the situation they are in. 'Comfort' is doing what you are doing and accepting the results.

robyn tonkin
Sun, 09/17/2017 - 2:12pm

Money and environment both matter. my husband and I both graduated from the U of M-Ann Arbor. We had one child. She was raised with educated parents, so learned from us about choosing and setting a long term goal, the value of organized thought, and how to proceed with the nuts and bolts of obtaining a useful, high caliber education. But--we had the money to give her whatever she wanted in the way of education. When she wanted to go to Middlebury College for an intensive Slavic languages program over one summer, we had the money. She arrived at adulthood with no education bills and no financial problems--we knew how to achieve that for her. She is truly one of the privileged middle class young people of today, and she knew how to build on what we started.

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 2:46am


In her formative years, how much did money matter to her, to her learning? How much did her parent emphasis and support for learning matter relative to money?

Early on I suspect we did much the same as you, we talked regularly about education/learning and how no matter what they wanted to do it would require not only the learning in public school, it would require education/learning after school, and for the rest of their lives. We took the time to explain why they needed to study, how to study, and to make studying a daily habit, we reinforced that by making sure the studied everyday. They were part of the dinner table conversations about work, about money [saving, getting value when we spent it], projects to fix the house. As for actually knowing we were financially comfortable, they didn't recognize that until friends of theirs asked about it. And for college, we encourage them to work to pay for their books and tuition, they work all through college, sometimes two job and briefly a third job. They own their degrees both by studying and working, they left school with no debt and are teaching their kids the value of learning, the value of working, and to seek value when spending.

I believe that it was the early emphasis in both your case and ours that were most valuable to their learning, it was the model we [you for your daughter, and us for our daughters] were for them, that help the develop an interest in learning and a value of learning that was most critical to their academic success. In college they had already established their learning habits, their value of learning, their drive/persistence to earn their degrees. The financial help was nice but it matter little to their learning.
I see our daughters and their husband doing what we did, but better, and their children are having even better learning success than they did. My childhood academic success was not so good, my parents didn't know how to learn, how to show me to learn, but they did give me a sensitivity to what education could mean and that lead me to college.

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 8:19am

Robyn- Your response confirmed what Duane and I have said. I would add that people make choices in life and there are consequences as to the direction of their life's path. There are over 100,000 jobs on the MI Works website, inner city contractors are begging for people to join the Skilled Trades, etc. Our Country's Labor Participation Rate has been at record lows for can connect the dots as Duane pointed out and recognize Comfortable Poverty.

Michael Montgomery
Thu, 09/14/2017 - 12:42pm

Student from affluent communities clearly have enormous advantages in the college admissions process, there is no question of that. It has never been clear to me, however, whether that is a function of family wealth directly or as it contributes to well-funded schooks

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 6:38pm

The point you overlook is that the parents in the 'wealthy' districts have most likely already submitted their own applications and know how to help their kids with the process. It has nothing to do with the 'wealth' it has all to do with experience.

Brian Casterline
Thu, 09/14/2017 - 1:03pm

"More good news: Of those headed to college, 63 percent of Detroit college-bound graduates are headed to a four-year school, well above the state average of 40 percent."

I do not understand why this is good news. Attending a quality junior college such as Schoolcraft or Lansing CC with smaller classes and and an experienced instructor rather than a TA will likely provide a better education. Attending a 'four-year school' because of some perceived qualitative difference just because it is a four year school is pointless.

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 5:40pm

A more meaningful study may have been measuring the success rate of college graduates after year 1, 5, or 10. I cringe when I hear the term elite college, as in my industry, the best engineers did not come from an elite college, but rather one of the technical universities where they had more of a nuts and bolts hands on education studying practical rather than theoretical matters. I'm sure the same applies to other fields as well. There are many that graduated with a degree from an elite college who presently serve as baristas at Mickey D's while living in their parents basement.

Dave Maxwell
Thu, 09/14/2017 - 8:09pm

Depends on your definition of "elite". For my money, Hillsdale and Adrian colleges beat all of them in the liberal arts departments.

William Hammond
Thu, 09/14/2017 - 11:52pm

It's interesting that you reported on Saginaw but not Flint. I'm sure we are underperforming but it would have been nice to see anyway.

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 7:36am

Any suggestions of how to remove the legend box when using the interactive map?
When I click on a school east of Marquette the legend box covers at least a part of the data brought up by the click.

John Q. Public
Sun, 09/17/2017 - 12:08pm

duane, I think you are missing the role of the individual in solving this problem.

I am disappointed that Bridge allows posts from people asking others to solve their problem for them instead of putting forth the effort necessary to solve it themselves.

Sun, 09/17/2017 - 5:49pm

My question was about the legend on the map in this article and how to remove it while looking at data for various locations on the map. I was hoping the author would direct me to instruction about working the map.

As for solving problems, I have yet to read a Bridge article where any of the writers were trying to engage people in solving the problem. I have found that problems have a better chance of being solved or mitigated when their is a diversity of perspective working together, I do think that at least one person should be one who is living the problem [they bring a practical 'expertise' of the problem].

I wonder how many readers like us would like to see a Bridge feature that was designed to engage readers in sharing ideas on creating innovative approaches to the various issue/topics of articles on bring to supplement the articles where the writers are trying to convince other to support/use their answer.
The reality I have learned if the person who is living with the problem is not part of the solution all other efforts will fail. If the student isn't part of solution to our current learning disappointment things will not change, if the person who health needs to improve is not part of the preventive care solution they will not improve their health and only need more and more medical care, if the person is earning enough to fulfill their needs isn't part of the efforts to get people learn the need knowledge and skills to get a better paying job they will never earn more money, etc.

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 8:37am

The factors this article refuses to acknowledge is that of culture and cognitive ability and their importance to a community's offspring and their likelihood for success as you define it. I hope it's not news to you that communities segregate based on these factors? This article seems to portray that aspiration culture and high cognitive ability are evenly distributed across any geographical area. They aren't and this is another outcome of our insistence on school assignment by Zip Code.

Donna Anuskiewicz
Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:08am

This is economic segregation. Those who fail to get into an "elite" college or miss out on contacts and opportunities offered at those schools where students meet professors and others with national reputation and find out about opportunities they might have missed out on at "non-elite" institutions.

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 10:21pm


The reality is that an accredited college is sufficient at the BS level, the 'elite' nature of a school has more impact as one progress up the degree level and the nature of the degree.

I have had the opportunity to work with people from across the country having earned their degrees at a wide range of schools, and at least my employer was more concerned with what they did with the knowledge than with the school name on the diploma. I am aware of a case where an individual graduated from a Michigan college [at the time was not an 'elite' school] who rose to the position of CFO of a 100 year old Michigan company rank in the top of its industry in the world [over $50 billion in sales and over 40,000 employees].

There are some companies and industries that are very interested in the school, but those are more about networking.

As best I can tell it is more a self impose financial segregation if it is segregation at all. And it has a lot to do with whether the people's in those communities applied themselves in public school and made the effort necessary to earn a college degree.

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 11:38am

What is the evidence that those who attend "selective colleges", (a term that this article has badly stretched), do any better over the long term that those who went to "non-selective" colleges?

Earl Newman
Fri, 09/15/2017 - 3:03pm

How does this help? Your data show that the wealthiest people send their children to the most selective colleges. This approach to analysis focuses on a rather narrow conception of the purpose of secondary education. To assume that the premier aim of a secondary school program is to prepare youth for admission to selective colleges is not a big idea; it is kind of a small idea. If the Center for Michigan wants to help our society confront the many challenges we face in the realm of education they should address educational aims that go beyond the relatively trivial purposes of credentialing people. What happens to young people in school? What experiences in and out of school contribute to success in scholarship and in life? What kinds of school environments are most effective in promoting curiosity, ethical behavior, and good work habits? How come the children of wealthy people are more successful in getting into selective institutions of higher education? Are they smarter than we are? The results of the study published here are titillating but not very enlightening.