The numbers game

Michigan community colleges struggle to retain students

By Joe Zylka
News Editor

Everyone’s parents, grandparents or loved ones have heard this same three-letter phrase over and over again: “Stay in school.” Well, community college students in Michigan are not listening.

Startling evidence shows that almost seven out of ten two-year college students do not receive any type of award.

Startling evidence shows that almost seven out of ten two-year college students do not receive any type of award.

According to the Michigan Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers, 25 of the 28 community colleges in Michigan experienced decline in enrollment from the 2012-2013 academic year to the 2013-2014 year, including Schoolcraft. Only Gogebic Community College in Ironwood, Henry Ford College in Dearborn and Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek had higher enrollment numbers last year. What is even more troubling is that just three in 20 Michigan community college students complete a two-year associates degree in three years, according to federal data on Michigan’s community colleges.

Why all the dropouts? It is based on a number of factors. Due to improvements in the Michigan economy, more students are attending universities instead of community colleges. This usually happens when economic times are good; when they are bad, more students attend community colleges.

However, the main problem is that about 60 percent of community college students need to take remedial courses, or courses they should have passed in high school, but did not, according to federal data. These remedial courses can take one or more semesters to complete and do not count as college credits. Because of this, more students drop out because the road to a degree is much longer. Another factor is that many students are part-timers, which can stretch a two-year degree into three or four years.

“Sometimes life just gets in the way,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association in an interview with Bridge Magazine. “Many students are finding jobs after graduating from high school or leaving college early to take jobs because employers can’t wait for them to finish their programs.”

Another problem facing Michigan’s community colleges is student retention. According to Governor Snyder’s Administration, the percentage of first-year community college students who were still enrolled in their second year fell from 74 percent in 2010 to 71 percent in 2013.

“Community colleges should provide students with a better, more carefully tailored roadmap toward getting a two-year degree or credential,” said Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network in the same interview with Bridge Magazine. “There needs to be much more structured pathways for college students, instead of giving them lots of choices that can be a waste of time.”

However, some students believe community college is putting them on the right track.

“I do believe Schoolcraft is preparing me and motivating me for a university education,” said Freshman Brianna Reed. “And I do plan on graduating from Schoolcraft (after two years) and pursuing a university education.”

Johnson said more low-income students might enroll if they were aware of Pell grants, which are federally funded sums of money that can award up to $5,730 per school year, which can easily cover tuition at a community college.

Whatever the situation is, the best thing one can do for themselves is to stay committed to their long-term goals and stay in school. Although the road will be bumpy, the emotional and financial payoff at the end will be substantial.