Pandemic hindering enrollment in college and degree programs, report finds

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Postsecondary enrollment in Michigan dropped 8.6% last fall and completions of federal aid applications — a key factor in college accessibility for low-income students — were down 16% in Michigan, evidence of the pandemic disruption on education.

That assessment comes from the Detroit Regional Chamber's 2021 State of Education report released on Wednesday, where officials said key indicators of educational outcomes were headed in the wrong direction as the nation grapples with a public health crisis and other factors.

The report said enrollment in Michigan at four-year institutions dropped 6.1% and at two-year institutions by 13.2%. It also said Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, completions were down 16% in current 2020-21 academic year in Michigan as of Dec. 25.

“The crises of 2020 made improving postsecondary education attainment that much harder, but all the more important,” Sandy K. Baruah, Chamber CEO said.

“Talent is the defining issue for business in the 21st century, and key to our region’s prosperity," Baruah said. "The multiple crises our society continues to face lays bare how disparities in educational attainment have exponentially increased the challenge to our community and individuals. We have a long way to go.”

Some key statistics and trends highlighted in the report:

•The share of the Detroit region’s high school students who are considered college-ready has decreased to 36% from 40% over the past five years.

•The region’s share of high school graduates who do not enroll in any postsecondary education has increased to 32% from 27% since 2014, with the city of Detroit increasing to nearly 50%.

•Of students who pursue postsecondary education upon completing high school, 47% in the region have not earned a degree or certificate within six years of graduating. The city of Detroit is at 76%.

•At 41%, the Detroit region’s share of the population with an associate degree or higher has continued to rise over the past five years, but continues to lag among similar regions. Regions such as Minneapolis and Seattle have roughly 53% of their population with an associate degree or higher.

•Degree completion by adults 25 and older has decreased 20% over the past five academic years.

•Michigan’s disparity between Black and White graduation rates with bachelor’s degrees exceeds the national average and is the third-highest in the nation at 21.9%.

Andre Perry, a fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution and scholar-in-residence at American University who spoke Wednesday about the report at the chamber's virtual event for members, said students are going to have learning loss during the pandemic.

"We need to address those issues. We all want kids to go back to school but we want students to go back safely," Perry said. "We need to use the summer months ... to extend the school year for the next few years."

The Detroit Regional Chamber established a goal of achieving 60% of the region’s adult population with a postsecondary degree or credential by 2030. The region is at 48.9%.

Greg Handel, the chamber’s vice president of education and talent, said there’s no path to 60% by 2030 without shifting the number of adults with some college credit to degree completion or closing the racial equity gaps in graduation rates.

jchambers@detroitnews.com