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Fewer high school graduates means creative adjustments for colleges

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Colleges and universities in Michigan have been grappling with ways to fill the revenue hole after the state Legislature cut funding for higher education. 

But now there's another problem -- fewer students. 

Brian Prescott is the director of Policy Research at the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. The Commission recently released a major report called "Knocking at the College Door," which found that Michigan was second only to California in the decreasing number of high school graduates. 

Prescott said that's because the children of baby boomers have graduated high school, so future graduating classes are becoming smaller. 

This means that higher-ed institutions are looking outside of Michigan to recruit more students.

Tom Speakman is the director of admissions at Central Michigan University. One of CMU's recruitment strategies is to do more "on the ground" recruitment in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana. 

The university is offering academic scholarships and in-state tuition rates as an incentive to out-of-state students with academic potential. 

Prescott said that although recruitment is important, it will be difficult for Michigan universities to attract more students because there aren't enough of them.

"Colleges are competing for the same students. Every year there's been a larger number of high school graduates across the country, and now that era is ending."

CMU is also looking at other communities that aren't traditionally targeted for college.

"[The lack of students] has caused us to look outside of our borders. We're looking at increasing our veteran student enrollment," Speakman said. 

Prescott said that creative strategies like those at CMU are going to be key to the survival of higher education in Michigan. 

"One wonders whether it's time to start measuring quality in a different way. People are going to be less prepared for college because there's a smaller pool of students, and students will have less income on hand as they think about college."

As schools shift their approach to recruiting students, Speakman said that the ultimate winner will be the public.

"[The lack of graduates] will require institutions to cease and desist the way they've done business and be more student centered and student focused."

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom

To hear the full interview, click the link above. 

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