In Economic Security, Education, Jobs and Economy, News Releases, Racial Equity

For Immediate Release
May 29, 2020 

Alex Rossman
CELL: 517-775-9053

Solutions include program for free community college, assistance for older workers and improvements to financial aid system 

NOTE: We are aware of the sad fact that there are much more pressing issues related to race and our society right now. People of color continue to face experiences, injustices and threats that some of us will never experience. As an organization and as individuals, we continue to strive to be explicitly anti-racist in our language and our work. Racism is unfortunately entwined in every aspect of our lives, and combating racism must be fought on multiple fronts. This includes drawing attention to racial inequities and necessary policy changes to reduce or eliminate them, as this report on higher education does, and we will continue to do what we can to promote racial equity and justice in every sense.

LANSING—Race and place make a big difference when it comes to postsecondary education in Michigan. A new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy, Expanding the Dream: Helping Michigan reach racial equity in bachelor’s degree completion, examines the data and presents solutions to ensure that all Michigan students can thrive beyond high school.

In Michigan, only 14 percent of Native American, 18 percent of African American and 20 percent of Latinx adults age 25 or over possess a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31 percent of White adults and 66 percent of Asian adults. This stems from a legacy of systemic racism; for example, school and neighborhood segregation in which students of color were provided fewer college preparation opportunities than White students.

When paired with geographic location, the disparities become even more stark. In medium-sized cities with a high concentration of African Americans, such as Muskegon, Saginaw or Benton Harbor, less than 10 percent of African Americans hold bachelor’s degrees.

“There are many reasons this gap exists, including historically racist policies like the GI Bill that promised all service members a free higher education in theory while perpetuating racial inequities in practice. Educational disparities also stem from the impact of economic inequality on children and their school readiness, school funding systems that do not recognize the added costs of teaching children in high-poverty schools, and lower high school completion rates,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.

Across the board, disinvestment in state funding for universities has resulted in large tuition increases, which contribute to the racial inequities in schools.

Michigan has drastically cut funding to its public universities in the past 20 years. The largest cuts came during the period between 2000 and 2010, when total funding for university operations was slashed by nearly $38.5 million, not accounting for inflation. And Michigan spends just $4 in public student aid per full time enrolled student, less than any other state in the nation. The national average is $752 per student.

Those decades of disinvestments have created a dire situation that will be made even more bleak if cuts to higher education are made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences.

The report lays out some policy changes that could create a more equitable picture for postsecondary education in Michigan and applauds Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “60 by 30” campaign to establish a state goal of 60 percent of Michigan residents completing a postsecondary certificate or degree by the year 2030.

“We certainly appreciate the heroism of our frontline workers who have kept our society together and our families fed and well-supplied during the COVID pandemic, including workers of color and those making low wages. But we also need to recognize that many of these workers are on the job right now out of necessity as much as choice,” Jacobs said. “The best way to express our gratitude to these workers is to offer them better options and opportunities. Some really strong, innovative programs have been proposed recently, including Gov. Whitmer’s ‘Futures for Frontliners’, which came about in response to the COVID-19 crisis and would provide a tuition-free pathway to college or technical education to essential workers.”

The report continues to advocate for “Futures for Frontliners” and other state programs that would go a long way in helping students who would otherwise be left out of the system, especially students of color, students from families with lower incomes and older workers without a degree or certificate. This includes the Michigan Opportunity Scholarship, which would provide two years of community college free to high school graduates, and Michigan Reconnect, which would provide two years of free training or community college for students 25 or older. Michigan Reconnect had strong bipartisan support, passing the Michigan Legislature in March and being signed by the governor on April 2 before ultimately being nixed to free up funding for COVID-19 needs.

Additional recommendations include making more state aid available to individuals in state prisons, increasing the number of high school guidance counselors in schools that serve large numbers of students with low incomes and students of color, removing the citizenship or permanent residency requirement from the Tuition Incentive Program and the Michigan Competitive Scholarship and increasing outreach to promote general awareness of the Tuition Incentive Program.

Background- Key Data Points from the Report:

  • In Michigan, only 14 percent of Native American, 18 percent of African American and 20 percent of Latinx adults age 25 or over possess a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31 percent of White adults and 66 percent of Asian adults.
  • Tuition rose from an average of $6,949 in 2000 to $14,288 in 2018. The student share of operations costs in Michigan is now 70 percent, the sixth-highest in the country, and highest in the Midwest.
  • Michigan devotes fewer public student aid dollars per student than any other state in the nation. The state spends $4 in public student aid per full time enrolled student; the national average is $752 per student.
  • Michigan ranks near the bottom in the nation for counselor-student ratios with 729 students per counselor, and it is estimated that the state would need to hire 1,100 more counselors at a cost of $80-100 million more per year just to reach the still-high national average of 482 students per counselor.
  • Of Michigan students who enrolled in a four-year public university for the first time in the 2012-2013 school year, 80 percent of Asian and 78 percent of White students received a credential (usually a bachelor’s degree) within six years, while only 69 percent of Latinx, 59 percent of Native American and 55 percent of African American students did so.
  • Michigan is third-worst in the nation for the share of bachelor’s degrees earned by Black students relative to its share of Black residents. The share of bachelor’s degree holders (with degrees earned at four-year universities) who are Black is only 6.8 percent, but it should be closer to 17.1 percent in order to match the Black share of the state population age 18-49 with no bachelor’s degree.


The Michigan League for Public Policy,, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.

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