Detroit Regional Chamber > Media Coverage > Detroit Regional Chamber: Post-secondary education gaining but more support needed

Detroit Regional Chamber: Post-secondary education gaining but more support needed

April 6, 2022
Crain’s Detroit Business
Apr. 6, 2022
Sherri Welch

The number of people in Southeast Michigan with an associate’s degree or higher rose slightly between 2015 and 2019.

But overall post-secondary attainment levels for the region are still lagging other best-in-class regions that have also been making incremental gains, according to the “State of Education” report released by the Detroit Regional Chamber Wednesday.

It’s a critical indicator to pay attention to because if employers can’t find talent here, they will go someplace else that does have talent, said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“Our economic prosperity as a state and as a region is really dependent upon solving this problem.”

Educational attainment isn’t just important to the business community, though, Baruah said. It has a direct impact on economic security.

Baruah was set to introduce the report during the chamber’s “2022 State of Talent: Helping Business Plan for the Future” event Wednesday afternoon.

The need to increase the number of people who hold a degree or post-secondary certificate is clear, Baruah said. If the region reached the goal of 60 percent of residents obtaining some type of post-secondary education, it would move per capita from $52,500 per person to almost $68,000 per person, adding about $51 billion to the region’s economy.

The increased earning power would bring significant economic gains for individuals and the region as a whole, with increased support to fix the roads and improve education systems, he said.

Whether the economy is strong or challenged, “those without a skilled credential, especially a four-year degree, are at least two and a half times more likely to be unemployed at any given point,” Baruah said.

By the numbers

Total post-secondary education attainment, including certificates in areas like nursing and welding, reached 50 percent across an 11-county region in Southeast Michigan in 2019, Baruah said. That compares to about 60 percent for best-in-class cities examined by the chamber, like Seattle and Minneapolis.

The percentage of residents in Southeast Michigan with an associate’s degree or higher rose to 41.3 percent in 2019 from 38.4 percent in 2015, according to the latest State of Education report. Minneapolis and Seattle hit 53.5 percent and 53.2 percent, respectively, in 2019 for the same measure, and Boston reached 56.1 percent.

Job needs and talent education levels here in Michigan are out of sync. Fifty-seven percent of jobs require a four-year degree, Baruah said, but less than a third or just 32 percent of the state’s residents hold a bachelor’s degree.

The pipeline for those pursuing and completing a degree or post-secondary certification is equally glum, he said.

Authors of the State of Education report followed a group of 100 students from around the region who were on a path to graduate in 2018. Only 81 did. Of those, 60 enrolled in college, and just a third of the entire cohort or 22 earned a degree or post-secondary credential by 2020.

“There’s a lot of leaks coming through the pipeline,” Baruah said, noting COVID-19 has made it even worse.

Strategies to help

The chamber is working with colleges,universities and philanthropy groups to develop strategies that address three main areas to help increase post-secondary education attainment, Baruah said. One is to increase the numbers of traditional high school students matriculating into degree and certificate programs and then helping them successfully complete those, Baruah said.

A bright note among otherwise pessimistic data: first-time freshman enrollment at four-year colleges in Michigan was up 1.7 percent for fall 2021, according to the report.

Of the students in the region who pursued post-secondary education, 45 percent did not complete their degree or certification within six years. In Detroit, nearly three-quarters of those entering post-secondary programs did not complete them, according to the report.

The chamber and partners are also focused on helping the roughly 760,000 Southeast Michigan adults who have some college but no degree to complete it, he said. And a third area of focus is working to close equity gaps in post-secondary education attainment.

“We know there is a tremendous gap in people of color who are not getting…the education that they deserve” in K-12 and post-secondary programs and their success in each is far below that of their white counterparts, Baruah said.

In the report, the chamber noted that nationally, Black and Latino students had the lowest re-enrollment in college from 2019 to fall 2020, with 64.9 percent of Black students and 68.6 percent of Latino students re-enrolling vs. 79.3 percent of white students.

“We will never reach the 60 percent level and will never really have a functioning…economy unless we address our equity gaps,” Baruah said.

The 2030 strategic plan developed by the chamber-led Detroit Drives Degrees collaborative — which includes business, philanthropy, government, K-12 and higher education groups — has put in place 17 strategies aimed at increasing post-secondary education attainment in the region to 60 percent and reducing the racial equity gap by half by 2030, the chamber’s vice president of education and talent, Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent for the chamber, said.

The efforts include implementing post-secondary transition course and expanding early post-secondary options, incentivizing credit maximization; building institutional capacity to advise students who are struggling; promoting post-secondary credentials of value and building career pathways; establishing regional scholarships for adults; and expanding debt forgiveness programs.

But do people know about them?

While some of the efforts have used targeted efforts to help get the word out, funding to market them more broadly is scarce, Baruah said.

The Detroit Reconnect program is taking its push to spur more adults to complete college directly to students in high schools, and it has trained over 80 ambassadors, who then in turn, use social media, speak in community groups, church groups to “evangelize the value of post-secondary education” and connect people who are interested back to either Michigan Reconnect or Detroit Reconnect to help people navigate that space, Handel said.

Colleges market their own debt forgiveness programs. And the chamber is working with the city of Detroit and the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation to raise funding to be able to market the Detroit Promise program much more robustly, Baruah said, adding that a bigger marketing campaign around the Detroit Promise is in the works.

The Detroit Promise provides eligible Detroit high school graduates with a tuition-free path to an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or technical certificate at participating academic institutions.

“That is something that we all agree that needs to happen…lots of parents don’t even don’t even know it exists,” Baruah said.

“We’re working with other groups to kind of help get the word out. But in terms of our ability to get kind of a broad marketing campaign for that particular program, that’s probably not in the offing right now,” he said. “We just don’t have the resources for that.”

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