Jacques: Money alone won't lead to more grads

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Here are some numbers Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should consider before trying to convince the Legislature to implement some of her expansive education proposals.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reads to students Friday at Northeast Elementary School in Jackson.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, the graduation rates for these universities and community colleges are as follows:

  • Wayne County Community College District (Detroit): 9 percent
  • Muskegon Community College (Muskegon): 18 percent
  • Mid-Michigan Community College (Harrison): 13 percent
  • Bay Mills Community College (Brimley): 21 percent
  • Ferris State University (Big Rapids): 42 percent
  • Wayne State University (Detroit): 37 percent
  • University of Michigan-Flint (Flint): 38 percent
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor): 91 percent

The rates at two- and four-year colleges, public and private, vary widely. And Whitmer should take this data into account.

In her State of the State address, Whitmer advocated boosting higher education attainment in Michigan, in the form of college degrees and other certification post-high school. She offered more details of these programs in her budget address last week.

She’d like to see the degree attainment rate jump to 60 percent in 10 years, from the current level of 44 percent.

It’s a worthy goal. But the governor wants taxpayers to foot the bill for a two-year “free” community college program, or two years of tuition assistance at a four-year institution.

She’d also like the Legislature to approve a tuition-free adult-training program — Michigan Reconnect — to help individuals achieve certification or an associate degree.

Each program would carry a cost of $100 million a year or more.

Given some of the dire graduation rates at many Michigan universities and community colleges this may not be the best use of state funds.

While financial need may certainly be a roadblock to some students completing a degree, many other factors come into play, including their academic preparedness.

It is not surprising that so many Michigan colleges struggle to keep their students enrolled considering the state’s declining achievement in its public schools. Whitmer knows this, too, and called for a large new investment in K-12 education. She wants to increase funding for school operations by $507 million, with more funding going to districts facing the most need.

That’s not a bad approach, but simply giving schools more money, without accompanying accountability measures, won’t move the needle.

Whitmer also wants lawmakers to back away from a 2016 law that mandates students are proficient in reading by third grade — an important predictor of future academic success. It’s gaining more attention now, as students could start getting retained in the coming school year. The law offers plenty of exemptions, however, as well as early intervention approaches that are worthwhile and shouldn’t be abandoned, especially since Michigan third-graders lag the majority of other states in reading.

More:Gov. Whitmer wants to overturn third-grade reading law

If Whitmer wants more students to earn college degrees, she must start with focusing on why they aren’t succeeding early on.