Study: Michigan counties lag in postsecondary education

    Grand Rapids Community College Tassel M-TEC | Nick Manes

    Only four of Michigan’s 83 counties have a population where the majority of the residents between ages 25 to 64 have an associate’s degree or higher, according to a new study. 

    The report, done by Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based organization that advocates for postsecondary education opportunities, shows that Michigan has seen a slight increase in attainment of postsecondary education or certification, from 45% in 2017 to 45.5% in 2018.

    A breakdown of the data by county shows only Washtenaw County (64.6%), Oakland County (57.7%), Leelanau County (50.7%) and Kalamazoo County (50.3%) have an attainment level of over 50%.

    Michigan’s most populous county, Wayne County, has a little more than one-third, or 33.5%, of its working-age population with an associate’s degree. 

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    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office highlighted the study as part of its push for postsecondary education and certification in her Fiscal Year 2021 budget with the Michigan Reconnect Program. This program, for which Whitmer has proposed $35 million, would pay for tuition for students older than 25 who are already in the workforce to get associate degrees or certificates for in-demand fields. 

    Whitmer is also pushing hard for her 60 by 30 goal, which aims to increase the number of working-age adults with a skill certificate or college degree from 45% to 60% by 2030.

    “To build an economy that works for everyone, we need to ensure everyone has a path to a good-paying job,” said Whitmer. “While this report shows Michigan is moving in the right direction toward our postsecondary goal, we must do more to help Michiganders get the skills they need to compete.”

    The national average for education attainment is 48.4%.

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    As it stands, Michigan ranks 33rd nationally for educational attainment and is below average in the Midwest. 

    Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois are all above 50% educational attainment. Ohio is level with Michigan at 45.5%. Indiana is falling behind in the Midwest at 43.6% attainment. 

    “Increasing access to education beyond high school is fundamental to the growth of our economy and prosperity of our residents,” Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) Director Jeff Donofrio said. “The progress we’ve made is not good enough. In order to remain competitive, we must work harder to outpace surrounding states and market the incredible opportunities Michigan has to offer its residents.” 

    Allison Donahue
    Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.