Why aren’t there more Michigan community college graduates?

Chelsea Wilson thought she knew what it would be like to go to college. But she realized that it didn’t match her image of what it would be – an image she had in mind from the movies.

“I felt so out of place,” Wilson, 20, of Taylor said of that year at Schoolcraft College in Livonia. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

So she left Schoolcraft and started working.

She’s not the only one who dropped out of community college.

Despite a push from politicians from former President Barack Obama to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to get more people to attend community colleges in a bid to improve the talent base in America and Michigan, the number of completions – students who complete a two-year study or transfer to a four-year school – remained low.

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For example, of the 108,386 students who started at a Michigan community college in the fall of 2013, only 13.2% had graduated or transferred two years later, according to data collected by the State of Michigan.

And the trend seems to be getting worse. Of the 107,181 enrolled in a Michigan community college in the fall of 2009, only 37.2% had graduated from two years or transferred to a four-year college, according to data from the state of Michigan.


Because what’s going on in the classroom – and preparing students for college entrance – is just the tip of the iceberg, say students, administrators and experts. What goes on outside the classroom – hunger, money problems, lack of transportation, lack of child care – it all adds up.

“The reality is that it’s not just the problems on campus that keep people from finishing,” said Mark Yancy Jr., Applebaum Family Campus coach at Henry Ford College. “There is so much going on in life that can cause problems. “

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Wilson was outspoken as she recently sat down in Gary DeGuzman’s office at Schoolcraft College.

“2014 was not my best year,” she told DeGuzman, a senior academic advisor at the community college, as he retrieved his transcript from his computer. “Should I just take them all?” “

DeGuzman studied his computer, then answered cautiously.

“I’m going to recommend you to do them again (course),” he told her.

DeGuzman swiveled his chair away from facing his computer and looked at Wilson. Spreading out a few pages of lessons on the desk between them, he asked her: what do you want to take when?

“I don’t know any of this,” Wilson said. “That’s the reason I’m here.”

The two carefully reviewed the schedules and started talking about math and science requirements.

“Science is my worst subject,” Wilson said,. “I don’t want to take it at the same time I’m taking math.”

Over the next few minutes, the duo carefully sketched out a plan. Wilson walked out relieved.

“For years and years, we just thought about bringing in students,” Laurie Kattuah-Snyder, associate dean of consulting and partnerships at Schoolcraft, told Free Press. “They come in wide-eyed and scared. They have no idea what a credit hour is. They come in and get lost.

“We have to look at what we do in college through the eyes of first generation students. We have to explain things in simple terms.

Erica Mills, 21, of Pontiac understands it. Now in her third year at Oakland Community College, she felt lost when she arrived on campus on day one.

“No one in my family has ever gone to college of any kind,” she said as a recent student on campus. “The teachers are handing out a program – I have no idea what it is. I didn’t know how to choose the courses – I took a few just because they sounded good. I wasted time and money.

So, Schoolcraft, like many other institutions in the United States, tries to be more aggressive in counseling students and making sure they know exactly what they need to follow in order to be successful – a strategy often referred to as guided paths.

“We are using a retrograde model,” Kattuah-Snyder said. “We ask, ‘What’s the end point? What does that look like to you? ‘ “

From there, a timetable can be established and a student can make a plan.

But even the best conceived plan can fall apart when life arrives.

“I just had to stop”

26-year-old Tara Mickles from Warren cries a little when she remembers those days.

“It was so hard,” she said. “I was trying to go to school, I was trying to work and I had a 2 year old child. We lived in a small apartment that I could hardly afford. Everyone told me I had to go to college if I wanted a high paying job.

“I tried – I came home from work and school late at night and tried to keep my son from waking up while I got him out of the car and put him to bed. Then I had to do my homework. I just couldn’t do it – I just had to stop.

It was five years ago. Mickles is married now. Her husband has a good job that allows her to go to Macomb Community College, where she studies business. Financial pressures are eased. The pressures associated with babysitting are eased. Life is better.

“It’s so much easier now,” she said. “I see people in my classes struggling, and I just want to tell them to hold on, that I know what they’re going through.”

It’s not uncommon for community college students to experience financial difficulties, according to a survey released this month by the Center for Community College Student Engagement.

Its survey of 149,190 students on 255 campuses across the country found:

  • 30% work more than 30 hours per week while studying; 19% work between 21 and 30 hours during their studies.
  • 63% say they live paycheck to paycheck.
  • 51% say they have trouble paying their bills.
  • 49% say they ran out of money at least once in the past 12 months and had to borrow from friends or family or get help from a charity.
  • 39% say they could find $ 500 in a month if something went wrong and they needed the money.

LaTosha Washington, 23, from Detroit gets it. She attends Wayne County Community College District full time and tries to work as many hours as possible to pay the bills. Her mother has other children at home and couldn’t help Washington, who shares an apartment in Detroit with two others.

His days are busy. It is dark when she leaves for her work in a fast food restaurant. She spends six hours there, taking orders and filling bags with food.

“At least we get a discount on the food,” she said around 2pm on a recent afternoon, having a cup of coffee and having lunch while doing her homework in the lobby where she works. She won’t eat until late in the evening.

After about an hour of homework, she slips into the bathroom to change. Pulling out a large black bag, she walks to a nearby bus stop. She is standing there, her headphones on, listening to music and texting her friends while waiting for the bus.

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A drive through town brings her to the WCCCD downtown campus, where she is in class intermittently for the rest of the day. Between classes, she tries to do her homework, but her head continues to drop towards her chest, until she finally gives in and sleeps for about half an hour.

When her last class ends shortly after 8 p.m. – that evening it ended early – she hitchhikes back to her apartment with a friend who has a car.

“I have a car, but it doesn’t work,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly what’s wrong, but the mechanic said it would cost around $ 650” to fix it. “I don’t have that right now, so he’s just sitting in the aisle. Hope I can fix it someday.”

She returned home around 8:30 p.m., almost 3 p.m. after leaving for the day. It’s time to do some extra homework, then hopefully get some sleep for a few hours.

“It’s bad right now, but if I can get a better job when I’m done, it will be worth it,” she said.

Kattuah-Snyder sees similar situations every day at Schoolcraft.

“They are trying to manage their finances and balance work, school and home,” she said. ” It’s hard. We have students coming in and going out. Then they run into trouble because they can only get Pell Grants for a limited time – then they are in an even worse financial situation.

Michigan community colleges have added pantries and other support systems to help students.

But paying for support staff – counselors, counselors and coaches – is expensive, and community colleges are entering a low enrollment period. Traditionally, community colleges have the highest enrollments when the economy suffers and people return to school for retraining. As Michigan’s economy improves, fewer people are returning to school, resulting in declining enrollment.

The number of credit hours taken at 25 of Michigan’s 28 community colleges is down from the same time last year, according to state data. This means that income is also falling as tuition fees are based on the number of credit hours.

And while there are programs like the Detroit Promise that cover the cost of a college education, there are few programs that cover the costs of support staff to help students understand how to get by in college and in life. life.

A pilot program has just started at Henry Ford College, where the Eugene Applebaum Family Foundation is funding the cost of Yancey Jr.’s salary to work with 113 Detroit Promise students.

“We want to remove all kinds of obstacles to their completion, he said.“ We work with tutoring, but also with other issues. We do a lot on transportation issues – putting people in touch with organizations that have bus passes. We also work in the field of daycare. We also help resolve financial aid issues and other issues here on campus. “

But he’s not the one doing all the work.

“A lot of situations require me to do something and you (the student) to do something. We don’t want to create a false environment, like a bubble, for the students. We want to prepare the students to be independent, but we want to help them finish.

Contact David Jesse: 313-222-8851 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @reporterdavidj. This story was produced with support from the Education Writers Association’s Reporting Fellowship Program.