Getting to The Goal

To reach this ambitious but attainable goal, and to build the ladder to get there, we must take candid stock of:

  • the performance of our postsecondary education efforts;
  • how we are doing among different populations, and in different parts of our education continuum that collectively contribute to reaching the goal;
  • identify and move the key policies and enablers that can increase postsecondary credential attainment for individuals and our State.

Metrics That Matter

To meet our renewed attainment goal, we need to monitor and move some key performance metrics in our lifelong learning education system. The performance metrics identified here are important indicators of progress and success that collectively comprise a postsecondary performance information system to guide policy and practice. This report is principally dedicated to identifying and enhancing key policies and practices of the higher education and adult credentialing system, along with its connecting points to K-12 education. It must be noted, however, that a cornerstone of later postsecondary education success is a solid foundation in early childhood and K-12 education. Michigan has newly expanded investment in important pre-K education[29] and still has much work to do to improve poor academic preparation and skill-building in K-12 schools[30] in order to lay a solid foundation for postsecondary success. Michigan must continue to make a priority of expansion of high quality, high-yield early childhood education, and pursue reforms in K-12 education to be more in-line with the strategies and performance of the top states.[31]

This report focuses on improving Michigan performance in two key areas central to increasing postsecondary credential-earning success for more Michigan citizens:

  • Postsecondary Participation: Creating conditions that increase dramatically the numbers of Michigan youth and adults engaged with postsecondary education and credential-earning.
  • Postsecondary Completion and Success: Dramatically increase the numbers of youth and adults that are engaged in postsecondary learning who successfully complete work-world valuable postsecondary credentials.

Postsecondary Participation

Michigan faces challenges in preparing and connecting our youth and adults to postsecondary credential earning programs. Many Michigan high school graduates, particularly Black, Hispanic, Native American and low-income are not prepared for entry into postsecondary education without the need for remedial coursework. This puts them at a disadvantage out of the gate, as there is clear evidence that those who have to take remedial or developmental education are much less likely to ultimately succeed in earning a degree or credential.

Factoring in those adults already in the labor market returning to pursue a postsecondary degree or credential (most of whom find their way to the door of one of Michigan’s Community Colleges) recent estimates (2013-14) indicate 61% are in need of developmental courses, slightly higher than estimates of the national average at 58%.[32]

How is Michigan doing to connect, guide, support, and accelerate learners to postsecondary education? The State is making progress, but has more work to do on important performance metrics, including:

Share of students taking/completing all forms of early postsecondary credit-taking: Only 11% or 53,000[33] Michigan high school students earned any post-secondary credits while in high school. Less than 1% of eligible 9-10 graders, 7% of eligible 11th graders, and only 13% of eligible 12th graders participated at all! And great variation among regional programs and funding structures delimit opportunities for quality Career-Technical Education programs in many areas of Michigan; programs which are usually well connected to next steps in postsecondary education and technical training.

Share of enrolled seniors completing FAFSA. As reflected in Exhibit 17, Michigan has made more headway increasing the numbers completing the FAFSA postsecondary financial aid qualifying form (a good marker for preparation and getting the guidance and support needed to access postsecondary education). Fifty-five percent of Michigan high school students completed the form, putting Michigan among the top half of states, and above the national average.

Share of students immediately enrolling in postsecondary. Pursuing postsecondary education immediately after high school graduation improves the chances of ultimately earning a degree or credential. Sixty-nine percent of Michigan high school graduates enroll immediately in postsecondary education.

However, as seen in Exhibits 18a and 18b, there are significant gaps among racial and income groups in terms of who enrolls right away and where they enroll. Blacks, Hispanics and Low Income students are less likely to start right away, and more likely to attend two year versus four year institutions. These lower immediate enrollment rates contribute to lower postsecondary attainment rates for these populations.

Relative Share of adults with some postsecondary learning but no degree. Michigan ranks very high (10th in the nation) with 25% of our adult population having some experience with postsecondary learning, but not completing a degree or credential. Among the top 10 best educated states that Michigan seeks to join, Michigan has the highest percentage of adults with “some college” no degree.[34] This is far and away the area where the greatest numbers of Michigan citizens can be found that would, if they achieve a degree or postsecondary credential, contribute to reaching the goal for overall state postsecondary credential attainment.

As Exhibit 20 indicates, these adults in Michigan are more likely to be Native American, Black, or White.

Adult learners who are enrolled in Postsecondary. As seen in Exhibit 21 adult postsecondary participants 25 and older in Michigan are more likely to be enrolled in two year community colleges, and come from American Indian, Black and Hispanic populations (who are anywhere from 10-15% more likely to enroll or start at a two-year institution than other Michigan citizens). These populations are traditionally among the most “at-risk” of not completing a degree.

Implication of these metrics for Policy Priorities

Michigan must get more traditional age students to pursue postsecondary education and expand the number of quality early college and career-technical learning opportunities (particularly among minority and low-income populations). In addition, Michigan must engage successfully in postsecondary education the far greater number of adults already in the workforce in need of a postsecondary credential.

Policy solutions for preparation and connection to postsecondary education include providing better guidance and support to secondary students in navigating their way to postsecondary learning, and much more aggressive mapping and early intervention around post-secondary readiness in order to deliver the skills needed to avoid remediation. Michigan also must put in place policies, financial support, and incentives to help many more Michigan students participate in highly effective early college and career technical programs, while in high school.

Michigan also needs effective engagement strategies for the large share of adults of all backgrounds who will benefit by returning to postsecondary education to earn credentials. The State must continue to build and maintain a robust postsecondary access support structure, including financial support, to put post-secondary education in reach for youth and adults alike, without resulting in crushing debt burdens. Michigan can also build more user-friendly information tools to help students, parents, and adult learners alike better navigate the system.

Postsecondary Completion and Success

Many youth and adults pursue postsecondary credentials and degree-earning but never make it to the finish line and the “payoff” in the form of a degree or credential that has currency in the labor market. How is Michigan doing currently on completion of credentials, and important progress measures that impact these completion rates?

Overall, our Michigan University Graduation rate is above the national average as seen in Exhibit 22.

And when Community College completion and successful transfer rate to a four year institution is assessed; these institutions are making important progress, seeing steady growth in six-year completion/graduation/transfer rates from 44% in 2007-08 to 53% in 2013-14, while serving a population that is the most difficult to support to completion of a degree or successful transfer.[35]

It must be noted that rightfully focusing attention on graduation and completion rates to spur improvement must be accompanied by the ability to measure success at completing all forms of valuable postsecondary credentials as defined in this report. Michigan is currently engaged, and we support, updating state completion definitions to include occupational certificates not currently counted as successful graduation. Including in performance metrics, and counting accurately success at delivering all valuable credentials will make these performance measures both accurate, and purposeful to support reaching the state’s 60% postsecondary credential attainment goal.

Digging deeper and taking into account the very different missions, and the different populations they serve — Michigan’s Community Colleges and Universities performance must be assessed differently.

Key performance indicators to follow for Michigan Community Colleges’ that are related to ultimate success at helping students complete credentials include:

  • Percent of students referred to developmental education who complete a gateway (i.e. college-level) course in math or English;
  • Percent of credit hours successfully completed in the first term (a key indicator of future success);
  • Percent of students who were retained from fall (term one) to their next academic term.

These important measures are part of the newly-developed American Association of Community College’s Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA), (which can be viewed at the Association’s website).[36] When fully developed, it will provide important additions to Michigan’s system for tracking and improving performance of its overall learning system.

For now, we do know that, in our community colleges, alongside the successful graduation or the transfer to four year institution rates as seen in Exhibit 24, another measure useful to gage performance is success at retaining students and keeping them on a path to completion.

One-Year retention rates for community colleges:

The one-year retention rate for our community colleges have fallen slightly from a high of 74% in 2009-10 to 72% in 2013-14, but the most recent data indicates the retention rate has rebounded. Michigan has a higher retention rate than the national average of approximately 60%.[37]

For Universities important performance metrics to track, that reflect completion and successful progress towards completion include:

One-Year retention rates for universities:

Michigan’s one-year (freshman) retention rates for universities have climbed from 80.5% in 2005-06 to approximately 82% in 2012-13. This is higher than the national average of approximately 79%

150% Completion Rates:

Like one year retention rates, Michigan’s 150% completion rates (graduation in six years) have also increased from 59% in 2006-07 to 60.5% in 2012-13. This puts Michigan above the national average of approximately 55%.

Exhibit 26. University 150% Completion Rates.

However, as Exhibit 27 illustrates, within this strong overall graduation rate there are significant racial gaps in overall four year and six year graduation rates. And individual institutions’ success at graduating minority populations also varies significantly.

University Completion/Transfer/Still Enrolled Rates:

While graduation is steadily reported, the State Longitudinal Data System still lacks a consistent measure of rates of transfer and students still enrolled after four and six years of college. However, as seen in Exhibit 28, there is a new student success metric that shows how many of these students complete/transfer/remain enrolled for each of Michigan’s universities. With all universities taken into account, approximately 89.6% of students fall into one of these categories after four years, and 85.1% after six years.

In sum, Michigan’s Community Colleges (and arguably public universities with essentially open enrollment policies) face the challenge of supporting to successful completion or transfer, a disproportionate share of poor, minority, and working adults – who also face the greatest obstacles to complete a degree. Michigan’s universities, on balance, do a better than average job supporting their student to success, but still face the need to better support particular populations, who complete degrees at lower rates.

Implications of Metrics for Policy Priorities

Michigan must increase dramatically the share of traditional age students who complete a degree or credential. Given our demographics and migration patterns (a low attraction rate coupled with the net out-migration of educated talent, and declining numbers of K-12 students), Michigan must make a priority of engaging and improving credential attainment of our adult population, including the majority white and the large numbers of minority and low-income learners whose attainment rates lag.

To do so, Michigan must make more seamless, efficient and cost-effective the transfer and movement within the higher education system. Michigan can also create incentives in reporting and financing postsecondary education that reward and support the completion of credentials, and enhance support for the institutional networks and strategies that help all institutions colleges, universities, and Community Colleges (serving the most at-risk) support to “success” their students. Tracking the key performance metrics outlined in this report, including by race, gender, age and income, must be integrated into our state’s CEPI education and higher education performance data system to continue to guide improvements in policy and performance.

Setting a Clear State Vision & Goal


A New Policy Agenda