Detroit Regional Chamber > Media Coverage > New report finds fewer metro Detroiters earning post-secondary degrees

New report finds fewer metro Detroiters earning post-secondary degrees

April 6, 2022
Detroit Free Press
Apr. 6, 2022
David Jesse 

One of the keys to raising the percentage  of Michigan residents with some sort of post-secondary degree or credential is to get nontraditional adult students back in the classroom and across the graduation stage.

But efforts to entice more adults back to  school have stalled  in recent years, according to a new Detroit Regional Chamber report that paints a gloomy picture of overall degree attainment across metro Detroit.  The report released Wednesday says  a robust job market, pandemic-related changes and fears in education are largely to blame.

“What happens when there is a lush job market, nontraditional students opt out of education markets to stay in the job market,” Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the chamber,  said in a briefing for the news media.

Perhaps no area has seen that more than adult degree completion. Annual adult completions of associate and bachelor’s degrees have decreased 24% over the past five academic years, the report said.

At community colleges, adult graduation totals have decreased by 37%, from 7,082 adult graduates in 2016 to 4,442 adult graduates in 2020. Four-year institutions have also seen a decline, from 5,718 adult graduates in 2016 to 5,268 in 2020.

The past two years of COVID-19 also has played a role in decreasing   degree attainment, Baruah said. Some didn’t go back to school because they didn’t want to go virtual and others didn’t want to go in person and risk getting the coronavirus.

There have been several programs at the state level — including Future for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect — aimed at helping adults earn  some sort of credential or degree past high school.  In addition, efforts are underway to increase marketing of various programs designed to help people get to school.

But while such programs have garnered interest and even prompted some adults to enroll, there are real world limits to their effectiveness, chamber officials say.

“There’s a lot of barriers between knowing about it and enrolling,” said Greg Handel, the vice president for education and talent for the Detroit Regional Chamber. “It’s beyond a marketing challenge.”

 These obstacles, which often include child care, transportation and studying around a work schedule,  can all cause leaks in the pipeline toward earning a degree.

Getting some sort of post high school credential is important because it brings with it greater economic stability for a person and their household, which creates more economic stability for the region, Baruah said.

“Fifty-seven percent of jobs in Michigan require a four-year degree, (but) only 32% of Michiganders have a four-year degree,” he said. “That number (of jobs requiring a degree) is only going to increase.”

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