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More Michigan high school grads going to college; first increase in years

 The back image of the graduates wearing a yellow tassel hat
After years of declines, the percentage of recent high school graduates attending college increased slightly in 2023. (iStock photo by nirat)
  • More Michigan high school graduates are going to college, new data shows
  • Michigan officials had hoped a big new scholarship would have pushed enrollment even higher
  • The increase is slight but first since the pandemic

The percentage of Michigan recent high school graduates attending college increased this fall for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, new state numbers indicate.

But the increase was slight, up to 53.7% for the Class of 2023 from 52.8% from the previous class, and not as large as some officials had hoped after a major state investment to make higher education more affordable.

Enrollment at four-year colleges rose to 38.2% from 37% of graduates, while two-year college enrollment dropped a hair to 15.8% from 15.5%, according to data released by the Center for Educational Performance and Information.


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made increasing college attainment a priority, pledging upwards of a half billion dollars annually to create the Michigan Achievement Scholarship.

For grads who meet income requirements, the scholarship program awards up to $5,500 to attend four-year public schools, $4,000 for four-year private schools and $2,750 for those at community colleges.


First offered last fall, the money may have helped stem a three-year slide in enrollment that coincided with the pandemic.

“That we stopped the bleeding is a credit to the Michigan Achievement Scholarship,” said Dan Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities.

“We just thought there would be more people eligible for the award, and it would prompt them to enroll.”

Michigan ranks 34th in the nation in the percentage of adults with a bachelor degree or higher, at 32%. Whitmer has set a goal of  60% of adults with college degrees or post-high school skills certification by 2030.


Education also is a key to boosting the state’s population, which has stagnated since 1990, ranking 49th in growth among states behind only West Virginia.  

Although Michigan unveiled the scholarships last year, it did not spend money marketing them — and only 25,433 of the 40,900 high school graduates eligible for the scholarships were awarded them.

While early reports indicated 74% of graduates would be eligible for the scholarships, it was closer to 60% last year, Hurley said.

In all, the state spent about $53 million on the scholarships last year, a figure that is likely to rise significantly as students move through college.

“I don’t think the (scholarship) helped a ton,” said Brandy Johnson, president of the Michigan Community College Association.

But Johnson said students who are considering two-year schools are different: Many have other jobs and go to school part-time; the Michigan Achievement Scholarship is only for those enrolled full-time.

Rising wages also may have prompted recent graduates to forego community college, she said.

“Some recent high school graduates made an economic decision that makes sense at the moment for them,” she said.

This month, Whitmer proposed a major change to the scholarship, saying she wants to make two years of community college free for all high school graduates.

Hurley anticipates far more high school graduates this spring will get the scholarship, in part because the state has committed to spending $10 million in new money to marketing.

While the increase in enrollment was smaller than expected, it was still welcomed by university administrators who had suffered years of declines.


If the Class of 2023 had enrolled at the same rate as the prior year, nearly 1,200 fewer grads would have opted for a four-year school — equal to all of the first-time first-year students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2023.

One wildcard for enrollment in 2024 is the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which was simplified but the rollout was delayed by the federal government this year, putting students and colleges behind. 

Students won’t know how much they’ll get in aid until later in the spring, possibly affecting enrollment decisions.

Some Michigan schools have already pushed their deadlines back and more may follow

— Isabel Lohman contributed

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