Detroit Chamber's State of Education report 'not a really great picture'

With a war underway for talent in the Michigan job market and no signs of retreat, the numbers behind the Detroit region's talent pipeline — according to Detroit Regional Chamber President Sandy Baruah — are just "bad math."

About 50% of the Detroit region's adults have either a skilled certificate or two- or four-year degree, about the national average. But the 11 counties in southeast Michigan trail regional competitors such as Seattle and Minneapolis, which are well into the 60% range, according to the chamber's third annual "State of Education" report, revealed on Wednesday.

"And Michigan ranks 40th out of 50 states in terms of labor force participation," Baruah says. “This is bad math. Just as our economy is in the midst of a seismic transformation — especially our hometown automotive and mobility industries — the need for more highly skilled talent ever increases."

The report concluded that declines in enrollment in college or training programs after high school that began before the pandemic have continued. Also contributing to the decline are COVID, which dampened college enrollment, Baruah said, as did the fact that Michigan's K-12 enrollment has been declining for years.

"The data in this report illustrates a harsh reality: The long-term COVID-19 impact on education threatens an already leaky talent pipeline where large numbers of students do not enroll in postsecondary education while far too many of those that do, fail to graduate or earn a credential after six years," according to the report.

Fewer Detroit high school students' graduated for the second consecutive year, only 8% were academically ready for college and three out of four Detroiters who went to college are no longer enrolled and hadn't earned a degree after six years, the report concluded.

The report shows that college enrollment among Detroit high school graduates dropped below 50% for the first time in 2019, and the education gap is widening between students of color and their White counterparts.

"It's not a really great picture," Baruah said.

Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce President Sandy Baruah said that the COVID-19 pandemic, "has taken a toll" on efforts to increase college enrollment and degree attainment. The chamber's third annual State of Education report shows that college enrollment among Detroit high school graduates dropped below 50% for the first time in 2019, and the education gap is widening between students of color and their White counterparts.

The chamber is three years into an effort to have 60% of Metro Detroit residents armed with a degree or credential and cut the racial equity gap in half by 2030.

The issues are important, officials said, because during times of economic turmoil, such as the months after COVID hit in early 2020, those with a bachelor's degree suffered job losses at a much lower level than those with a high school degree or less, he said.

"No matter what stage we see, whether the economy is strong or if the economy is challenged, those without a skilled credential, especially a four-year degree, are at least 2½ times more likely to be unemployed," Baruah said. 

He said the issue is critical because higher education enhances an individual's future financial stability and is needed to propel prosperity for the region and state.

No one population group is more critical than the other, said Baruah. But there were 676,546 adults in the region three years ago with some college credits but no degree or credential. Helping that population earn a credential or degree could make a big difference fairly quickly in boosting the percentage of adults with a post-secondary education. 

Baruah also said that closing the education equity gaps at all levels would yield significant outcomes. 

"We really need to focus on our equity gaps," said Baruah. "There is a tremendous gap in people of color who are not getting the education they deserve... they are not matriculating to post-secondary at an acceptable rate and they are not succeeding through that post-secondary experience at a successful rate either ... we will never really have a well-functioning economy unless we address our equity gaps."

Baruah added that boosting the percentage of people with degrees or certificates to 60% would translate into real economic gains for individuals and the region.

Currently, per capita income is $52,500 per person; increasing the percentage of the population with degrees to 60% would push per capita income to almost $68,000 per person, he said. It would add $51 billion to the regional economy.

The high school graduation rate for students in the 11-county Detroit region has remained steady at 85% for the past three years, according to the report. But Detroit’s high school graduation rate, after rising to 75% from 2016 to 2018, had fallen to 72% in 2020. 

Over the past five years, college readiness decreased from 40% to 35% for high school students in the region. Detroit high school students' college readiness is 8% declining from 9% in 2016. 

The percentage of high school graduates in the region who did not enroll in any postsecondary education rose to 34% from 26% between 2015 to 2019.

But it was more dramatic among Detroit high school students, who attended public schools, charter schools, and schools in districts outside of the city: 53% did not enroll in postsecondary education within 12 months, a 15% increase since 2015. 

Meanwhile, large numbers of high school students who went to college did not earn degrees within six years. For the 11-county region, that included 45% of students; for city of Detroit students, that number rose to 74%.

There is a bright spot in the report: First-time freshmen who enrolled at four-year colleges in Michigan was up by 1.7% for the fall of 2021.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

jchambers@detroitnews.com