The University boasts the highest six-year graduation rate in
the state, a study from the National Center for Education
Statistics reports.

“We’re a highly selective university,” Senior
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Lester Monts said. “The
students we accept are able to handle the rigor of the work we have
here.”

He added that competitive schools across the country have
graduation rates that are similarly high, unlike other schools with
lax enrollment policies.

The University graduates 84.2 percent of its students in six
years. In comparison, 69.1 percent of Michigan State University
students graduate in six years, and the six-year graduation rates
of Wayne State University and Eastern Michigan University are 33.7
and 38.3 percent.

The NCES study, released online last month, also provides cause
for concern. The state of Michigan lags behind the national average
in college graduation rates and the percentage of the population
with college degrees, according to the survey.

“Our graduation rates have stagnated over the past few
years,” said Mary Dettloff, spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. John
Cherry.

Cherry heads a commission that was appointed by Gov. Jennifer
Granholm to find a way to double the number of college graduates in
the state over the next decade. The commission is working closely
with the NCES report to discover problem areas and fashion
strategies to meet Granholm’s challenge.

Dettloff said the commission may visit the University to get
ideas on how to raise the graduation rates of other Michigan
schools above the national average.

The report also revealed disparities within Michigan colleges.
Whites graduate at much higher rates than underrepresented
minorities.

At the University, 65.9 percent of blacks graduate in six years,
compared with 87.8 percent of whites. Women at most Michigan
schools graduate at slightly higher rates than men. This trend was
pronounced at the University’s Flint campus, where 42.3
percent of women graduated in six years, compared to 30.7 percent
of men.

“There are a number of contributing factors,” Monts
explained. “A lot has to do with the cost and the level of
preparation.” Minority students are not leaving the
University because they are performing poorly in classes, he
added.

“We’re trying to address those disparities,”
Dettloff said. She added that inadequate preparation may be a
factor in low graduation rates not only among minority groups, but
also among Michigan university students in general.

To better prepare students for the rigor of college coursework,
the commission headed by Cherry is considering requiring two years
of pre-collegiate schooling in addition to the current K-12
national standard. It is also looking at scholarship incentives to
encourage college students to complete their degrees.

The commission is also considering whether Michigan universities
prepare college graduates for the high-tech economy. “Jobs of
the 21st century require the use of technology, teamwork and
critical thinking,” Dettloff said. Even liberal arts majors
should still have basic computer skills, she added.

Dettloff said Michigan, where degree holders comprise 22 percent
of the population, trails other states in its proportion of college
graduates because of the state’s traditional reliance on the
manufacturing sector. Many middle-aged residents didn’t need
college degrees to get jobs in Michigan’s labor-intensive
automotive industry when they entered the work force. Those
blue-collar workers often relied on overtime pay to maintain a high
standard of living.

Now, Dettloff said, many factories in the state require some
type of post-secondary schooling. “Gone are the days when you
could walk into a factory with a high school diploma and be able to
have a middle-class existence,” she said. Young people need a
college degree to compete in a knowledge- and technology-driven
economy, she added. “It should be a general expectation in
this state that every child goes to college.”

Michigan’s percentage of degree holders is also depressed
by its inability to retain recent college graduates. Holding onto
this educated work force is one objective of Granholm’s Cool
Cities program, aimed at using community input to make
Michigan’s cities more attractive to young people.

The NCES study compiled statistics for full-time students who
started college in 1996. It is the most recent collection of data
on university graduation rates.

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