Census 2010: SVSU Officials Tackle State's Low College Graduation Rates

Census 2010: SVSU Officials Tackle State's Low College Graduation Rates

Sunday, September 25, 2011/The Saginaw News


By Justin L. Engel


KOCHVILLE TWP. — There’s good news from the U.S. Census Bureau: A college degree can add a million dollars to the lifetime earnings of a typical American worker.


Michigan, however, lags behind the nation in income and the percentage of people with college degrees.


Saginaw Valley State University spokesman J.J. Boehm said another trend contributes both to Michigan’s below-average college graduation rate and its lower income levels: Decreasing state aid to colleges and universities.


A 2009 Illinois State University study showed Michigan last in the nation in higher education appropriations. From 2005 to 2009, Michigan’s college aid dropped 5.1 percent compared with the national average of a 24.1 percent increase over the same span, the Illinois State University study shows.


“There has been a fundamental shift in who pays for higher education in Michigan,” Boehm said. “Today, our state appropriation represents only about 21 percent of the (university’s) general fund budget. A generation ago, that ratio was practically reversed.”


The result, he said, forces students and their parents to pay for 80 percent of the university’s operations as opposed to the approximately 20 percent those parents and their parents paid about 30 years ago, he said.


“At the same time that Michigan has been struggling economically, it also has been de-investing in higher education,” Boehm said. “The data is clear: Increasing the proportion of college graduates increases a community’s prosperity.”


As recently as 1999, median household income in Michigan was $3,400 above the national average. By 2009, its median had fallen $3,900 below the national figure, to $47,461, according to 2010 census data.


The past decade’s economic upheaval in Michigan resulted largely from a loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs. Jobs in such industries as transportation and office furniture often required specialized skills, but not college degrees.


Now, with fewer manufacturing jobs, the skills of Michigan’s work force do not always match the demands of employment in new fields, experts say.