GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Higher education institutions in Michigan continue to face challenges with enrollment.
Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School said it will not enroll an incoming 2023 summer class. However, it will continue to hold classes in the summer at its Michigan and Florida campuses and new students will be enrolled in the fall and spring.
According to data from the American Bar Association, Cooley Law School had more than 3,600 students in the fall of 2011. As of Oct. 2022, that number has fallen to around 500.
Ryan Fewins-Bliss, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network, said enrollment in the state is a very serious issue that many in higher education are facing.
“There’s about 52,000 fewer college students in the state post-pandemic, than there was pre-pandemic, and frankly we were headed in the wrong direction pre-pandemic already,” Fewins-Bliss said.
Due to COVID-19, Fewins-Bliss said many students became disconnected with institutions like higher education.
“Our whole lives changed during that time period and it’s hard to get back into the swing of things,” Fewins-Bliss said.
He also feels that the conversation surrounding college has been shifting for the last decade.
“Parents used to be really proud when their student was going off to Harvard or Northwestern or University of Michigan, and now people seem less likely to brag about their students going to a good school,” Fewins-Bliss said.
Fewins-Bliss said that numbers show that the value of an education beyond high school hasn’t gone away.
“All of the data across in Michigan and across the state says you will make more with an associates degree or bachelor’s degree or beyond, you’ll have job security and be up for more promoitions,” Fewins-Bliss said.
According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, Michigan community colleges have also seen a sharp drop in enrollment. From the fall of 2017 to 2022, total enrollment fell by around 31%.
“Community college enrollment historically has been really tied to the labor market and I think a lot of people know there are good jobs right now and students are often making choice between getting a job and going to college,” said Erica Orians, vice president of Michigan Community College Association.
Orians said costs are also a barrier and a new state scholarship should provide much needed help.
“The new Michigan Achievement Scholarship is available to the class of 2023 which can provide tuition support to some students who are enrolling in college,” Orians said.
The Michigan Achievement Scholarship allows students to receive up to $5,500 per year, depending on the type of school a person attends.
Fewins-Bliss said higher education is getting creative to increase enrollment and it’s vital for Michigan’s economy.
“Because if we don’t, either our businesses will leave the state to find that workforce or they’ll start to important educated workers in from other states or countries,” Fewins-Bliss said.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has set a goal of 60% of the state’s working-age adults having a college degree or skills certificate by 2030. According to the Lumina Foundation, Michigan is currently just over 50%.