Join The Center for Michigan this fall for three events to explore to path from classroom to career:
- Oct 5: Career Navigation Solutions Summit, Livonia
- Oct 20: Challenges to Upward Mobility Solutions Summit, Grand Rapids
- Nov 2: College Value and Affordability Solutions Summit, Lansing
For more details and a list of speakers, visit The Center's events page. Space is limited, so reserve your space today!
With college affordability much on the minds of Michigan families, residents support a variety of innovative programs that can earn students free credit hours and reduce post-degree debt.
For example, more than 72 percent support the creation of state programs that allow college graduates to forgive loans in exchange for agreeing to a stay in Michigan for a certain number of years after graduation, according to polls, panels and community conversations conducted by the Center for Michigan. These programs are often used for new doctors and dentists who agree to work at government facilities in underserved areas.
This year’s public engagement survey shows that residents value higher education yet are worried that its cost – which has doubled in the last 20 years – is putting a heavy financial burden on parents and graduates alike.
“My biggest concern is college debt. I have a lot of it, and people like me are taking entry level jobs and being in them for 5-plus years,” said one conversation participant and recent graduate. “Basically, we have to wait for someone to retire to move up, and that isn’t paying my loan payments.”
More than 4-in-5 participants in conversations and polls for the Center want the state to enact policies that expand opportunities to gain college credit for qualified high school students, a way to shorten college and reduce costs dramatically. Nearly 23,000 high school students took college classes in 2013-14, more than double who took advantage of such programs a decade earlier.
There was even support, though by only by a thin majority, for a more aggressive proposal to reduce the cost of higher education: making college free to Michigan residents?. The survey showed 52 percent of people in community conversations supported that idea, along with 56 percent of poll participants.
The findings come from the Center for Michigan’s fifth annual public engagement report, “Getting to Work: The public’s agenda for improving career navigation, college affordability, and upward mobility in Michigan.” The Center surveyed more than 5,000 Michigan residents roughly representing the demographic makeup of the state. The report is drawn from the views of more than 2,593 people participating in 149 community conversations across Michigan, with the rest participating through two large-sample telephone polls, an online panel and two online surveys of employers and educators.
Michigan’s grads have the 8th highest debt load in the country, with 63 percent of graduates from a survey of public and private universities having debt, which averages $29,583, above the national average of $28,400.
The Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit working to make college more affordable and accessible, says high debt can have long-term effects on graduates, putting the brakes on major life decisions like marriage, buying a car or home, starting a business or saving for retirement or their own children’s education. College grads carrying large debts are also far less likely to make meaningful contributions to the state’s economy.
“I’m going to college in liberal arts, and I’m terrified about getting a job when I get out. I’m worried that I’ll be up to my eyeballs in debt,” one college student told the Center.
Growing southern states that have recently passed Michigan in population – Georgia and North Carolina – have similar debt rates, with 61 percent of students graduating with debt. But graduates there are carrying, on average, $5,500 less than their peers in Michigan. That means a monthly bill that’s $63 lower, on average, for 10 years.
College credits in high school
One of the most popular solutions to lower college costs are programs, currently used across much of the state, that allow qualified high school students to take college classes while they are still in high school. In some cases the classes double as college and high school credit. Across the state, qualified students are able to take classes at local colleges that can both double as high school credit or standalone as college credit.
Michigan now has 90 “early college” programs sprinkled across the state, which often allow students to get both their high school and college associate’s degree within five years.
Also popular are “dual enrollment” programs in which students take college classes that are paid for by their local public school district.
In the 2013-14 school year, nearly 22,800 high school students took over 54,300 dual-enrollment college classes, according to the state education department. The bill: $18.2 million in course fees, which are picked up by local school districts that would have otherwise been billed to students or their families had they taken the classes after high school graduation.
“That’s a lot of money that parents and students don’t have to kick in,” said Sam Sinicropi, with the Michigan Department of Education’s office on education improvement and innovation.
Michigan leaders recently expanded the program to allow qualified ninth and tenth graders to participate as well. Participation has more than doubled in the last decade but still only about 10 percent of eligible juniors and seniors take advantage of the program. And though there’s a cap on how many college classes a high school student can take at a time, there’s not a cap on how many kids can take the classes.
Users of the programs, however, have to be careful, said Don Heller, dean of the Michigan State University College of Education. Saving money is great but students must take care to ensure the classes they do take will transfer to the college they later want to attend.
“You’ve got to have programs that help students get credit toward their degree,” Heller said.
Looking to solve the problem of student debt after they graduate is a proposal from state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, to grant a tax credit to graduates of any Michigan public or private colleges and universities – as long as they are nonprofit – equal to 50 percent of the annual interest payments they would owe in their first five years after graduation, if they stay in the state. It’s modeled after a similar plan in Maine .
Senate Bill 57, Hertel said, “is trying to lighten the load on people who have astronomical debt and also to get people to stay here, which is a problem,” he said.
The bill is currently in the finance committee and Hertel said there has been support. It’s an outgrowth of meetings he held with students who said they were afraid they would not be able to get a job that allowed them to pay off their loans.
It’s a widespread fear. In the Center’s report, 64 percent of conversation participants said high costs were either the No. 1 or No. 2 obstacle to completing college.
“It’s a very frightening time,” Hertel said.
Lowering college costs could help the state retain some of the thousands of graduates who take their newly-minted degrees and head for the border, participants said. The call to action comes at a time when the state’s leaders acknowledge that the future economic health of Michigan requires a larger population with college degrees or at least some level of advanced training after high school. Michigan now ranks only 33rd in the nation in the percentage of adult college grads, well below the national average.
“We’re losing a lot of the younger population,” said one participant, “and students have a lot of debt.”
All this talk about the rising cost of college can be a deterrent to low-income students and first-generation college students.
“Anything that sends the message, in particular to low-income students, that college is costly is problematic,” said Matthew Reed, program director for The Institute for College Access and Success.
Students and families should be given more need-based money, Reed said ‒ and the information that college can be made more affordable. “It’s hard to get that message across,” he said. “It’s not that simple.”