Sixty percent is becoming the standard estimate of the proportion of working age adults who need a post secondary credential to meet the skill needs of the state and national economy. These credentials include four years degrees and more, two year degrees and occupational certificates from post secondary institutions.
Currently Michigan post secondary credential rate is about 45 percent. Which results in a ranking in the mid thirties among states.
The challenge for the state is how do you move from 45 percent to 60. Its a big lift.
Most working age adults are already in the workforce. Many of them do not have post secondary certificates. Michigan (the nation too) does not have a good track record of helping adults without a post secondary credential earn one. Among the major barriers are life demands; for many, an aversion to schooling; and low level foundation skills.
More promising––and where there are more models of success––is with those still in school. High school through higher education. But even here to get a substantial increase in post secondary credentials is a big lift.
The barrier that most needs to be overcome is that most high schools, community colleges and universities are not organized with college completion as the mission. The change that matters is at the institutional level––public school districts, charter management companies, community colleges and universities––that are committed to college completion as the mission/goal. And along with commitment have the capacity to design and implement the kind of best practices that get breakthrough gains.
Identifying the levers that drive institutional change, both commitment and capacity, should be the priority for policy makers.
Specifically we need breakthroughs in:
1. What matters most is getting high schools organized to graduate students college ready. Not to create excuses for post secondary institutions, but the absence of foundation skills continues to plague all post secondary institutions. The gap for many high school only grads––no matter how old they are––has been too great for most institutions to overcome. So getting high schools right matters most.
College ready means more than a test score––although most Michigan high schools are struggling with even that. GPA trumps ACT/SAT by far in terms of predicting college graduation because it measures things like engagement and effort. Add to these non cognitive skills, the non-content specific cognitive skills like communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking that matter to both college and career success you have what high schools need to focus on.
Nearly all the high schools in Michigan that have this kind of broad, rigorous curriculum are private schools and public high schools in the affluent suburbs. So most high schools are going to need to be held to a far more rigorous standard and redesigned for the state to have a chance to get to 60 percent.
2. Giving that under-matching (students not enrolling in the most demanding higher education institution that they are qualified for), which occurs regularly and particularly for first generation students, is so important for college graduation and summer melt (students not showing up in the fall for the college they enrolled in their senior year) is so prevalent, once again more so for first generation students, high schools need to dramatically improve their college counseling. This also will require a complete resign of most high schools in the state. The challenge is particularly hard for those high schools who only have a small number of seniors each year who have the ACT/GPA that makes matching relevant.
3. We need community colleges and universities that are committed to the kind of redesign that Georgia State University and CUNY have done––particularly much more extensive and mandatory support services. Its hard to identify any public university or community college in the state who have the kind of leadership commitment that is willing to drive that kind of change.
4. Money matters. Lower tuition is better; more public investment in high schools matters, particularly in non-affluent high schools; more public investment in support services at college and universities matters too so I am in favor of big increases in public investments in education at all levels. But without big institutional change more money will only get you marginal improvements in credentials rates. Not the breakthroughs we need.