More Michigan residents get college degrees, but state still trails diploma race

More than four in 10 Michigan adults have an associate’s degree or higher, the highest rate on record but still far short of what the state needs.

The share of Michigan adults with college degrees is at its highest point ever.

And while the state’s college attainment rate is still below the national average, Michigan is closing the gap, according to a report released by the Lumina Foundation examining college attainment in the nation and the 50 states.

Based on Census data, the report found that the percentage of Michigan residents aged 25-64 with an associate’s degree or higher has increased from 35.6 percent in 2008 to 41 percent in 2017. That puts Michigan 30th in the U.S.

Nationally, 42.4 percent had an associate’s degree or higher in 2017. Massachusetts led the nation, at 53.8 percent.

Michigan still behind

The percent of adults with a college degree – associate’s, bachelor’s or graduate degree – is lower in Michigan than the nation. If high-quality certificates are included, Michigan is even farther behind.

1Dist. of Columbia63.4
5New Jersey49.7
 United States42.4

When job-related post-high school certificates are included, 45 percent of Michigan adults have a post-secondary credential – up from 43.3 percent in 2014 and good for 32nd in the nation.

“We’re thrilled to see the number of Michigan residents with a high-quality credential beyond high school continue to increase,” said Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, a Lansing-based organization that works to increase college readiness.

The report’s findings, “coupled with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pledge to make postsecondary educational attainment a priority for all Michigan residents, makes us even more committed to reaching our goal of having 60 percent of Michigan residents hold a degree or postsecondary certificate,” Johnson said.

Whitmer set a goal of 60 percent of adults with some kind of  postsecondary attainment by 2030 in her recent State of the State address.

Most job growth is in fields that require some type of postsecondary education. On average, college grads earn 56 percent more than those with a high school diploma.

Whitmer is proposing a broad expansion of college financial aid in an attempt to boost Michigan’s college attainment rates. The Michigan Opportunity Scholarship would essentially make two years of community college free for most recent high school graduates.

Gap narrows

Despite having a smaller percent of adults with a college degree, Michigan has closed the gap with the nation when looking at associate’s degrees and higher.


Source: Lumina Foundation


Other notes from the study:

  • Michigan’s rank among the states in percent of adults with an associate’s degree or higher rose from 32nd in 2008 to 30th in 2017.
  • The state remains below average in the number of adults who’ve earned a certificate and a bachelor’s degree or higher. In Michigan, 30.6 percent of working-age adults have a bachelor’s or higher, compared to 33.3 percent nationally.
  • The percent of adults with a degree ranges from 63.3 percent in Washtenaw County to 19.9 percent in Lake County.
  • There is a 16 percent college attainment gap between whites and blacks in Michigan (42 percent to 26 percent), matching a 16 percent gap nationally.

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Thu, 02/21/2019 - 9:08am

Very glad you considered high quality certificates. A friends son has HVAC training and is presently raking in money compared to some with college degrees who are asking if you’d like fries with your order. On the down side friend’s son has to travel out of MI to be where the work is, but one has to do what one has to do.

Ren Farley
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 9:13am

It is pleasant to see attention devoted to this important topic. Is it possible that the new governor will appoint an active committee to look into the costs of higher education in Michigan. The number of 18 years olds is steadily declining year after year as the state's population stagnates and the fertility rates fall toward record low levels. Does Michigan really need so many state supported four year and community colleges?

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 9:22am

This just continues the mania of we need to produce degrees, without any question what they mean and how they'll be used. If someone goes to college spends 4, 5, 6 ?? years and $80,000 ++++ , (not to mention the state's investment), to get a job waiting tables or one of many that doesn't or shouldn't require one, did we do anyone a service? Let alone spending all that time and money to get a $35,000 year job with essentially no investment pay back. Then there's the fact of degree inflation that employers more and more require degrees for jobs that in no way justify them, and were previously filled very well by high school grads and still could be! This makes college degrees just as meaningless as high school diplomas have become. Of the states on the top of the degree list, how many of their degree holders were produced internally verses moved to that state, with their education, for a job? The answer to that question may not justify the remedy you seek. Education is a resource and an investment that should be wisely used.

Bob Balwinski
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 11:34am

"Then there's the fact of degree inflation that employers more and more require degrees for jobs that in no way justify them, and were previously filled very well by high school grads and still could be!"

Matt, could I have a couple examples of MI jobs where the employer asks for a degree but a degree isn't really needed....just a HS diploma?????

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 1:25pm

Bob, There are piles of jobs that in no way require skills beyond those obtained by a middling high school grad and that because of this mantra, now way too many employers think they need a BA or BS. In way too many cases a BA is nothing more than a long drawn out and very expensive IQ and work habit test/screen.

Thu, 02/21/2019 - 1:36pm

I have several friends kids at this moment, as well as my own who were/ are exactly in this situation. One's an engineer grad doing as he admits is nothing a high schooler couldn't in a QC dept and I've personally seen my daughter with an accounting degree in a payables dept saying the same thing or worse. This is not uncommon at all. We don't even ask about degrees in my business because they mean so little, I rarely have any idea what ed background my people have. It's about how they do their job that matters and determines their promotion.

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 12:47am

Have you considered what it takes to earn a degree and how that maybe good information for an employer? Earning a degree implies the capacity to learn, an understanding of how to learn, a willingness to sacrifice to learn/do a job, persistence at a task/learning, etc., there are many things earning a degree can help in the selection of an employee when the information gained earning the degree has no direct relevance to the job at hand.

Your asking the questions suggests that you have not learned how to think about a problem, to think past the obvious, how to ask the right questions, etc. Consider many of the liberal arts degrees, they have limited application of knowledge in the marketplace, especially when the person only has a bachelors degree. However, if a person has learned how learn while earning the degree then they are likely to be able to learn a knew job and the needed knowledge to be successful in the job. Even, simply learning the discipline to put in the extra effort/discipline to study can be a valuable skill for an employer.
I think Matt is right, there are other reasons for hiring a college graduate than the specific knowledge and skills the learned while earning the degree.

Michigan Observer
Thu, 02/21/2019 - 10:21pm

Matt says, "Then there's the fact of degree inflation that employers more and more require degrees for jobs that in no way justify them, and were previously filled very well by high school grads and still could be! " The recent tightening of the labor market has changed employer's behavior. Since they are no longer in a position to be demanding, they have suddenly discovered that a great many of their positions don't really require a college education, and that they are capable of training somebody with a good work ethic.