Redefining the Classroom

U.P. college presidents say more Michigan residents need training beyond high school

Posted: September 12th, 2012

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – While funding for colleges and universities is cut in Michigan, other states around the country are finding ways to invest in their institutions of higher learning, leaving Michigan behind the pack when it comes to percentage of residents who have college degrees.

Meanwhile, studies continue to show that education after high school benefits communities, society at large, and the students themselves. A coalition of community colleges and universities in Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- the Council of Presidents - U.P Community Colleges and Universities -- is seeking to make sure the public is informed of the true value of trade school or college education beyond high school.

"Not only do the majority of college graduates have a job within six months of graduation, but during their lifetimes they will earn more than their co-workers who did not complete some sort of college coursework or trade school training following high school graduation," said Tony McLain, president of Lake Superior State University and part of the U.P. coalition.

Nationally, just under 40 percent of the population has a college degree. It has been at that figure for many years, but until recently the United States has led the world in the proportion of college degrees in its population. Today, the U.S. has slipped to 15th in the proportion of 24-34 year olds who have obtained associate's or bachelor's degrees, according to Jamie P. Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, an independent foundation that is committed to enrolling and graduating more students in college.

In a speech to the Southern Growth Policies Board in Chattanooga, Tenn., recently, Merisotis said Lumina seeks to increase the number of U.S. college graduates to 60 percent of the population by 2025. This will still fall short of what the Upjohn Institute says will be needed. According to the institute's forecast, 64% of the nation's workforce will require an associate's degree or higher by 2025.

"Now, and certainly in years to come, workers without college-level learning simply won’t have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed," Merisotis said, noting that the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has estimated that by as early as 2018, more than 50 percent of all of the jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training.

Merisotis said that college graduates are doing better than those without degrees even during these recent years of high unemployment.

"The unemployment rates for those with college degrees are considerably lower than for those without postsecondary credentials," he said. "According to data from late 2011, national unemployment rates for 18-24 year olds (not enrolled in school) are about 8.9% for BA recipients and 11.9% for AA holders, compared to a whopping 22.9% for those with only a high school credential."

He also noted that individuals with a bachelor’s degree make an average of 84% more over their lifetimes than those with just a high school diploma.

The university and community college presidents in the U.P. are working together to ensure more students complete credentials through an agreement signed by all the presidents encouraging students to reverse transfer credits back to community colleges so students will receive their associate's degree and through articulation agreements that ensure all community college courses will transfer to universities so students can complete bachelor's degrees in a timely way.

According to the Presidents Council of State Universities of Michigan, more parents in the state are recognizing the need for their children to have access to higher education. A recent statewide survey, 76 percent of Michigan parents said they believed their children should attend college, and 78 percent of them said they believed that those with a college education are usually better off than those without one.

"The message that we live in a knowledge economy and getting a college degree is vital to getting ahead is gaining traction here in Michigan," said Michael A. Boulus, executive director of the PCSUM, which represents the 15 public universities in Michigan. "Our state is in the bottom third of the nation in college attainment. Research shows the path to prosperity for an individual and a state goes through college. High-income states in our nation have a high percentage of people living in them with a college degree."

Between 2000 and 2009, Michigan colleges and universities, including those in the U.P., have increased the number of students annually receiving bachelor's degrees by about 19 percent in spite of a 32 percent reduction in per-student state support, adjusted for inflation. Community colleges across the state have increased the number of students annually receiving associate's degrees by 81 percent and certificates by 100 percent despite a 52 percent reduction in per-student state support adjusted for inflation.

The Council of Presidents - U.P Community Colleges and Universities, is a group made up of seven colleges in the U.P., including LSSU, Bay Mills Community College in Brimley, Bay College in Escanaba, Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Gogebic Community College in Ironwood, Michigan Technological University in Houghton and Finlandia University in Hancock. -UP-

CONTACT: Tom Pink, 906-635-2315,; John Shibley, 635-2314,