Thousands of young adults are ready to complete college degrees, according to a new education study by iLabs, UM-Dearborn's Center for Innovation Research

August 17, 2009

DEARBORN/ Aug. 17, 2009---A new study conducted by the University of Michigan-Dearborn finds there are thousands of young adults (25-34) in Michigan who have some college but no degree who would like to complete their degrees in the near-term, which would help make Michigan’s workforce more competitive in the new global economy. 

This is the first study that examined the overall group of young adults with some college and no degree, rather than targeting specific sample areas within the group. It challenges assumptions about a segment of the group and offers recommendations to remove or lessen the impediments that are keeping them from becoming college graduates.  

Michigan has 321,000 young adults who have some college but no degree, the third largest percentage at 25.7 percent in the U.S., trailing only Alaska (28.0) and New Mexico (25.8). In the city of Detroit and surrounding counties of southeast Michigan, 25.3 percent of young adults fit this profile – the largest percentage of 25-34 year olds with some college but no degree of any major metropolitan area of the country.

"These are very significant findings that will help us to understand the opportunities and challenges we face in getting young adults with some college and no degree to return to school and complete their education,” said Daniel Little, chancellor of UM-Dearborn. “Educational institutions and government agencies can play a major role in helping these young people re-engage and complete their education, which positions them to be competitive in the new economy.”

Thirty-nine percent of the young adults who have some college but no degree responded that they are likely or very likely to return to college in the next few years. In southeast Michigan, this equates to approximately 57,000 young adults who indicate they are planning to re-enroll in higher education. The study identifies this group using the term “stop-outs,” who can be targeted by universities and community colleges to complete their degrees.  

The findings show that 85 percent of “stop-outs” have one or more years of college (25 percent have completed more than three years), they are experienced students, and for many, a significant portion of their degree requirements have been completed. This large group differs from the overall assumption that college dropouts have little college level experience and little desire to complete their degrees.

Two key barriers – time and money – have been identified as the reasons for “stop-outs” not completing their degrees. The study concludes that universities and community colleges can partner with government agencies and community organizations to work together to create actionable solutions to break down the impediments keeping “stop-outs” from returning to school. Innovative possibilities might include providing highly flexible offerings in response to time demands, offering weekend and evening courses to provide flexibility, expansion of course offerings, and adjusting academic cycles – from the traditional three 16-week semesters per year to have six to eight week-long terms.
“We need to be responsive to these young adults and help them re-engage in their educational pursuits so that they can be competitive in today’s marketplace,” added Little. “As we look to the future, there are going to be great opportunities for young people as new technologies and the changing economic landscape create new career paths. We have a responsibility to help these young people realize their full potential, and the best way to do that is to give them the chance to complete their college degrees.”   

Many in the state’s workforce of young adults are presently undereducated and unprepared for the realities and challenges of a knowledge-based economy. Young adults without college degrees are less competitive and can expect significantly reduced income levels, when compared to college graduates. Historically, their unemployment rate is nearly twice that of college graduates. They can anticipate an average annual salary that is only two-thirds that of college graduates.

Nationally, the study found there are 8.4 million young adults who have some college experience but have not completed their college degrees. The number translates to 21 percent of 25-34 year olds. Helping this group to complete their degrees would not only benefit them individually, it would have a positive impact on the economy.  

The study was conducted by iLabs, the UM-Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research, as part of a U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation and Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant on behalf of the Talent Team Committee, a dynamic and diverse group of college administrators, faculty members, nonprofit leaders, and state government officials led by UM-Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little and Eleanor Josaitis, co-founder of Focus Hope, in cooperation with the Detroit Regional Chamber.

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