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Addressing Michigan’s low high school graduation rates

According to Stacker, a web-based news site that specializes in data-driven content, Michigan ranks 46th of 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of high school graduation rates. This has implications for higher education institutions because – of course- you don’t go to college without a high school diploma or a GED.

Community colleges are most likely to be affected by the state’s low high school completion rates. Admission to a competitive university isn’t really a priority for students who have trouble completing high school coursework. If these students attempt any post-secondary education at all, they will enroll first at a community college.

For years, high-achieving high school students have pursued dual enrollment at community colleges. Dual enrollment enables students to begin college coursework early. In many cases, dual-enrolled students earn transferrable college credits, and complete more challenging academic work.

But what would a dual-enrollment program for at-risk students look like? Michigan students least likely to complete their high school program include students who:

  • are economically disadvantaged
  • speak English as a second language
  • have disabilities
  • are homeless
  • are in foster care

The goal of a dual-enrollment program for at-risk students may initially focus less on earning college credits than on remediating students so they can stay in school; improving English proficiency; and supporting students in ways that enable them to overcome their challenges.

Such a program may not be able to address the needs of every at-risk student. But it may help reverse the fortunes of some students who might otherwise leave the system altogether before completing their secondary education.

Community college could help improve high school graduation rates

Creating innovative programs for at-risk students serves multiple community purposes. First, it enables students to complete their high school programs. Second, it prepares them for college-level studies. Third, it provides an opportunity for them to participate meaningfully in the economy.

This is the kind of work the community college should be studying carefully. This is how our educational dollars should be spent. We should be looking for ways to enfranchise as many people as possible. There’s room to work cooperatively with local school districts to identify and support students most likely to leave without graduating. We should be able to help them create a different future for themselves.

Michigan has one of the worst high school graduation rates in the country. That directly and negatively affects enrollment at Michigan’s community colleges by reducing the pool of potential students. Instead of responding to that need, the WCC administration wants to use our education dollars to build a hotel.

And the Board of Trustees thinks it’s a great idea.

Photo Credit: Timothy Takemoto , via Flickr