Study

Not all kids are being pushed to get a four-year degree

Conventional wisdom is that one of the main culprits in the so-called skill shortage is that all Michigan kids are being pushed to get a four-year degree. I am quite skeptical that that is accurate. (See this New York Times article about college counseling at a Topeka, Kansas high school for what is a far more likely portrayal of how non-affluent kids are advised about whether to pursue a four-year degree or not.)

Far more likely is that kids growing up in affluent households are being told by most of the adults in their lives that they need to get a four-year degree. But, by and large, they are the only kids getting that message.  That most kids growing up in non-affluent households––those in the bottom three quarters by income––rarely and/or inconsistently get that message from the adults in their lives. And when they go to make a decision about what path they will pursue after high school they are being pushed far more often than conventional wisdom has it not to pursue a four-year degree. If anything pushed into the skilled/ professional trades rather than getting a four-year degree no matter what their qualifications or interest.

What is clear in the data is that even if all kids are being pushed into getting a four-year degree it is not working. The pattern is consistent with the suggested messaging above. Kids in affluent schools overwhelmingly pursuing four-year degrees, those in non-affluent high schools not so much.

Lets start with the overall data which comes from the state’s terrific mischooldata.org database. For the graduating class of 2015 twelve months later 41.2 percent of all Michigan high school graduates had enrolled in a four-year college; 28.4 percent had enrolled in a community college; and 30.4 percent had not enrolled in college.

Now lets look at the difference in enrollment between affluent and non-affluent high schools. I looked at one of each in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. There is nothing representative about the high schools I picked. They represent my  perception of high schools that are predominantly white with one in each county largely serving affluent students, the other predominantly serving non-affluent students. Predominantly white to take race as an excuse/explanation off the table. If you don’t believe the pattern below is representative, I encourage you to look at high schools you think are more representative.

In Wayne County I looked at Northville High School and Garden City High School. 70.6 percent of Northville’s 2015 graduates enrolled in a four-year college within twelve months; 22.3 percent enrolled in a community college; 7.1 percent did not enroll in a college. At Garden City High School 27.4 percent of 2015 graduates enrolled in a four-year college within twelve months; 38.0 percent enrolled in a community college; 34.6 percent did not enroll in a college.

In Oakland County I looked at Birmingham Seaholm High School and Waterford Kettering High School. 77.5 percent of Seaholm’s 2015 graduates enrolled in a four-year college within twelve months; 12.6 percent enrolled in a community college; 9.8 percent did not enroll in a college. At Kettering 39.2 percent of 2015 graduates enrolled in a four-year college within twelve months; 35.4 percent enrolled in a community college; 25.4 percent did not enroll in a college.

In Macomb County I looked at Utica Eisenhower High School and Lake Shore High School. 54.6 percent of Eisenhower’s 2015 graduates enrolled in a four-year college within twelve months; 33.2 percent enrolled in a community college; 12.1 percent did not enroll in a college. At Lake Shore 36.1 percent of 2015 graduates enrolled in a four-year college within twelve months; 40.5 percent enrolled in a community college; 23.4 percent did not enroll in a college.

Finally lets look at college completion rates. The six year graduation rates for the high school class of 2010 is:

  • All Michigan: 27.2 percent four-year degrees; 8.6 percent associate’s degree or certificate
  • Northville High School: 66.2 percent four-year degrees; 4.4 percent associate’s degree or certificate
  • Garden City High School: 19.3 percent four-year degrees; 11.2 percent associate’s degree or certificate
  • Birmingham Seaholm High School: 65.1 percent four-year degrees; 1.7 percent associate’s degree or certificate
  • Waterford Kettering High School: 25.1 percent four-year degrees; 14.8 percent associate’s degree or certificate
  • Utica Eisenhower High School: 56.3 percent four-year degrees; 9.0 percent associate’s degree or certificate
  • Lake Shore High School: 29.8 percent four-year degrees; 7.5 percent associate’s degree or certificate

Looking at the data it sure seems like one can make a much stronger case that if Michigan high school graduates are not pursuing first jobs in the skilled/professional trades at the scale that employers need it is far more to do with those jobs not being attractive to the majority of Michigan kids who are not pursuing a four-year degree rather than all kids being pushed to get a four-year degree.

 

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.

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