Capital News Service
Friday, March 5, 2004
LANSING --While some states try to make local colleges and universities more
attractive to residents, Michigan education officials say they’re more
worried about persuading young people to stay in the state after graduation.
States such as Indiana have been adopting methods to keep young people through college recruiting and grants. But with “healthy” application numbers at many Michigan universities, higher education officials say the challenge is finding room for all the students.
More high school graduates, people seeking degrees and people ages 15-19 all contributed to a jump in admissions requests in recent years. The shift means tougher cutoffs for grade-point averages and test scores leaving some applicants – who might have gotten in few years ago – searching for alternatives.
And although many schools are reducing or sticking to current acceptance rates, the state’s three largest institutions, widespread community college system and private institutions makes it attractive for applicants – and potential long-term residents.
Universities such as Northern Michigan have bolstered programs to find jobs for recent graduates, while several government programs seek to make cities more enticing for young people.
“People aren’t busting down our doors to get in, but almost,” said Chuck Philip, vice president of academic affairs and student services at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor. “There are a lot of colleges per capita in Michigan, and that’s an attractive position for a state to be in. We have opportunities we know people will take advantage of.”
Enrollments grew steadily over the last several years, possibly because of greater focus on fields with employee shortages – such as nursing and technology – and a downturn in the economy that sent more people back to school, Philip said.
Many of the college’s students attend for two years before transferring to Western Michigan, Ferris State or Michigan State.
“They stay put” in the region, Philip said. “The whole connection between invention and industry is so much more clear now, and research and invention that goes on at top-tier institutions does have a lot more impact on jobs.”
In her State of the State speech, Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for interest-free loans for college students who study technical fields such as engineering and agree to stay in Michigan until their loans are paid off.
Other programs that could keep students here are the Michigan Education Trust and the Michigan Educational Savings Program, which guarantee a break on tuition with early savings. The state also offers the Michigan Merit Award, a scholarship based on Michigan Educational Assessment Program test scores. Students attending Michigan schools receive $2,500, but only $1,000 for schools outside the state.
Granholm also is touting a Cool Cities Initiative. The plan seeks to create and retain jobs and develop housing in walkable communities with 24-hour activities. The state also has focused more attention on helping start-up businesses and making broadband Internet available, services that might be important for recent college graduates.
“It’s younger citizens who use that, rather than those of us still trying to figure out how to program the VCR,” said Lt. Gov. John Cherry. “We have been negligent in investing in urban Michigan and the lifestyle many young people want is to be near others. People tend to move away.
“Michigan is an exporter of young talent.”
Many colleges are keeping students by recruiting earlier and operating scholarship programs that guarantee major breaks on tuition.
But to continue funding public universities at the same level, private universities would take a hit in Granholm’s proposed budget. Her plan would cut state scholarships to needy students attending private colleges at the beginning of next school year. It would save the state $65 million, but it means bigger tuition payments for about 30,000 private students annually.
Michael Boulus, executive director of the President’s Council, State Universities of Michigan, said jobs more often demand college degrees, even manufacturing jobs that used to be open to anybody.
“Your chances of staying in the state are better with a college degree than without one,” Boulus said. “When you get brain gain instead of brain drain, you tend to stick around. You work in the state where you went to college.”
And the state’s major research universities – University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State – are contributing more to the number of jobs available – and the reasons for young people to stay in Michigan.
“What we’re doing with SmartZones and the Technology Tri-Corridor all offset the loss of manufacturing jobs,” said Boulus, referring to programs that focus on adding technology-based industries. “Our research centers are incubating centers for jobs.”
Students at Northern Michigan University in Marquette were introduced to a job search program earlier this year that caters only to Michigan businesses, www.university-talent.com. The online program, sponsored in part by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, matches student profiles with companies looking for employees.
“I think we as a university have a duty to pay attention to the economic situation in Michigan and try to increase the work force,” said John Frick, director of the university’s JOBSearch Center. “Probably 80 percent of our students say they’d like to stay in Michigan, so we try to identify companies that are interested. We really try to get students to seriously consider staying in the state.”
Copyright 2004 Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism