Statue in front of Main Entrance of Glen Oaks Community College.

The Other Big Issue with Michigan Colleges – Degree Completion

by Dr. David Devier
Glen Oaks Community College President

Michigan student loan debt is a serious problem facing college students, whether they are graduates or not; however, the other big concern is related to thousands of former Michigan students who have college work but no credentials, i.e., certificates or degrees to show for their efforts.

Taking this situation further, it is the fact that millions of adults in the United States are carrying student debt and have no degree to help pay it off. While some college has shown to give the individual additional life-time income, the value of the degree considerably increases earning power. The national statistics report that approximately half of all Americans who attended college did not earn a degree and this total is in the tens of millions.

These individuals will not benefit nearly as much as degree completers and may have debt for the student loans they incurred while attending. In the most damaging situations, these students who did not earn a credential and are straddled with debt, feel trapped and frustrated. According to data available from the U.S. Department of Education, the former students’ ability to repay their loans is more on whether they graduated than on how much they borrowed.

To make these data even more challenging, only 15 percent of the lower half (income) of the U.S. population have earned a degree and only 9 percent with the lower quarter. These data do not bode well for those non-completers when most jobs now require post-secondary education. This situation also impacts the country’s ability to make the most of the vast potential these individuals have to serve society.

Michigan data are even worse when compared to most of the country. It is easy to proclaim that this situation is the result of the student’s lack of motivation or ability but taking this approach does not change the result. In fact, one in five Michigan adults ages 25 or older have some college credits, but no degree, according to a “Bridge Magazine” analysis of census data. “This fact makes Michigan the lowest of all Midwest States and while the State ranks 28th in percent of high-school graduates (61 percent) entering college, but drops to 41st in graduation rates,” reports Bridge Magazine, September, 2016. This lack of a credential costs these individuals hundreds of thousands of dollars over their careers.

What can be done to enable these college but no credential Michigan adults to complete their work? There are efforts being implemented to address these former students. The Win-Win Program has been undertaken by the State’s public community colleges. This effort identifies former students who left school needing only a few credits to graduate. These individuals are contacted to determine what can be done to help them complete. In some cases, these former students already have enough credit to graduate but have not applied. Once these students are identified, all fees associated with seeking graduation are waived. In other cases, former students only need one or two courses to complete and they are encouraged to return to school, to enroll and complete. All fees are waived for processing the credit and graduation costs. These efforts have enabled hundreds of Michigan students to graduate.

Another program to help non-completer students is, “Credit When It’s Due”, which identifies former community college students who have transferred to four-year universities and in most cases, had not graduated from that institution. These students were contacted to encourage them to process transfer credit back to the given community college to complete. Just one much advertised example of this was the conferring of an associate degree to Governor Snyder by Kellogg Community College. He transferred the needed credit from Michigan State University back to KCC. There have been dozens of former Michigan community college students who have been able to complete their associate degree using this method. While these examples of new initiatives to encourage former Michigan college students to complete their intended credentials have helped, there needs to be significantly more effort expended to encourage non-completers to graduate.

At Glen Oaks Community College, we offer all the help needed to complete the credentials students began with us, no matter when or where you attended. If you know of anyone who can benefit from completing their intended credential, please encourage them to call, stop by, or e-mail the college and we will do our utmost to serve them in achieving their goals. Let’s make the current college dropout data the past by increasing the completion rate in St. Joseph County.