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Stateside: Improving students' access to higher education

BES Photos / flickr

Students’ transitions to college are often determined by the rigor of their high school education.

How a student views attending college is often shaped by the adult voices around them.

Today, we spoke with Brandy Johnson and Nathan Daun-Barnett.

Johnson, the Executive Director of the Michigan College Access Networkand Barnett, a professor of Higher Education Administration at the University of Buffalo both stressed the importance of an informed body of high school students to better ensure their college attendance.

The Michigan College Access Network’s goal  is to boost the percentage of Michigan residents with post-secondary degrees or credentials to 60% by 2025. According to Johnson, Michigan still has further to go.

“We’re around 36% of adults with an associate’s degree or higher. That is a significant mismatch from what we need to meet the demands of the labor market in Michigan,” said Johnson.

How does Michigan compare to other states?

“Nationally, we’re probably somewhere around 40%. The challenge that the 60% points out, is that none of our states are even at that mark yet. When we compare ourselves to the rest of the world, what we find is that we were once the most college-educated. Where we’re falling behind is with our latest cohort of young adults,” said Barnett.

“The jobs that are disappearing in Michigan are jobs that were in the manufacturing sector which are now being replaced by jobs with positions that require another credential than a high school diploma,” said Johnson.

According to Barnett, the lens through which we view higher education must remain fluid.

“We have to think differently about the nature of the relationship between individuals and post-secondary education in a 21st century economy. We have to think of life-long learning as a sustained engagement in understanding and growing in your profession,” said Barnett.

Those who work will often have to receive continuing training to stay current with his or her profession.

“We have to rethink the bar that we’ve set. Counselors are critically important, very often they don’t have the training to help students make choices about the path they will make beyond high school,” said Barnett.

Currently, the student-to-counselor ratio is 638:1, says Johnson. She suggests that we expect all students complete a post-high school education.

Barnett addressed the importance of students talking to their teachers about college, for they are their nearest source of information.

“We have to make sure that all students are exposed to an academic curricula that will set them up for success in post-secondary education. Students need to be able to enter college prepared to take that entry-level coursework no matter what they’re pursuing,” said Johnson.

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