Number of Michigan degree-holders growing, but state still lags behind nation

Number of Michigan degree-holders growing, but state still lags behind nation

Higher educational attainment among working-age Michigan adults has been steadily growing over the past decade, but the state is lagging behind the nation and its neighbors in the Great Lake states, according to data released Tuesday.

There are 50.4% Michigan residents age 25 to 64 with college or career credentials, which is an increase of 1.4 percentage points from 2020 when it was at 49.1%, according to a report from the Lumina Foundation, which is tracking the nation's goal of arming 60% of residents with a postsecondary credential.

Michigan's current educational rate shows continued growth from 2017, when the rate was 45%, and 2009, when the foundation first started tracking the data and Michigan's adult educational attainment rate was 35.8%.

But Michigan is below the national average of educational attainment of 53.7%, which grew 2 percentage points since 2020 when the Lumina Foundation issued its last report, known as A Stronger Nation.

Compared with its neighbors, Michigan is also behind Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, which all have higher educational attainment rates of 56.9%, 54.7%, 54.0% and 51.2%, respectively.

The report is based on data from 2021, the latest available from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Of Michigan's residents in 2021, 12.5% had a graduate or professional degree, 21% had a bachelor's degree, 10.2% have an associate degree, 2.7% have a certificate and 4% have a certification.

Meanwhile, 14.9% of Michigan residents have some college but no degree; 26.9% have a high school diploma or GED; 5.3% dropped out of high school and 2.2% have less than a 9th grade education.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2019 set a statewide goal to raise the percentage of Michigan adults with a postsecondary credential to 60% by 2030.

That was ten years after the Lumina Foundation set a goal in 2008 that 60% of U.S. residents would have a credential by 2025, and could explain why Michigan is lagging the nation, said Courtney Brown, Lumina's vice president of strategic impact and planning and director of the Stronger Nation project.

"Their goal is longer than the national goal that we set, so that is some of it," said Brown. "They focused a lot of efforts in the last couple of years on attainment, so my guess is we want will see even more growth."

Brown noted that Michigan's attainment of associate degrees or higher increased from 41.7% in 2019 to 43.8% in 2021, a 2.1 percentage point increase, which was higher than the nation's 2 percentage point increase.

Short-term credential attainment in Michigan, however, decreased, Brown said. The rate decreased from 7.4% in 2019 to 6.7% in 2021.

Michigan has launched efforts to reduce barriers for residents to get a postsecondary credential, including the Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect programs, which provide free or reduced-cost tuition.

"We are happy that we are making steady progress toward 60%, but it's not fast enough," said Ryan Fewins-Bliss, executive director of the Michigan College Action Network. "We know we are going to amplify the good things we are already doing and switch some things up."

He specifically noted the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, a $250 million state-funded scholarship announced in October hailed as the biggest state investment in financial aid in decades and a "game changer" that will cover the majority of college costs for many Michigan high school graduates and reduce their need to take out loans.

"We are excited about that incentive to get more students who thought college was out of reach into school, and once they are there, we need to help the colleges keep them and persist them toward college graduate," Fewins-Bliss said.

Brown said the national and state data is promising, because it is the largest two-year educational attainment increases the Indianapolis-based foundation has seen.

"This is also the first time every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have experienced increases in the proportion of residents holding associate or bachelor's degrees or higher," Brown said.

The report also tracks higher education attainment by race and ethnicity and showed an increase across the board in Michigan and nationally, with the highest increases among Hispanics. In Michigan, the rates increased to 29.6% from 27.3% in 2020, a 2.3 percentage point increase. This is similar to the national increase of educational attainment among Hispanics nationally, which increased 2.5 percentage points since 2020.

Among Black adults in Michigan age 25-64, educational attainment increased 0.5 percentage points to 26.7% from 26.2% in 2020. Nationally it increased 2 percentage points to 34.2%.