The Berrien College access network questions juniors in the region about life plans after high school

A new survey from the Berrien College Access Network examines what teens in southwest Michigan plan to do after graduating from high school. The network tells us more:

Students in Berrien County are five times more likely to consider attending college after high school than working in a trade, according to a recent survey. The Berrien College Access Network (Berrien CAN) surveyed 610 high school students in nine local school districts last spring to better understand their post-secondary plans. The results show that 77% of the students surveyed said they wanted to pursue a two or four year college or university education after high school, while only 14% wanted to pursue a vocational training or certification program.

These findings have important implications for education and workforce development systems in Greater Southwest Michigan. Chris Machiniak, assistant superintendent of vocational and technical education and system improvement at Berrien RESA and co-chair of Berrien CAN, says traditional college is not the only option for students who want to have successful careers and lucrative in southwest Michigan. In fact, the local job market is full of open jobs that pay good wages and require degrees that can be obtained in less time and for less money than a two or four year college degree. And future employment forecasts include more of the same. “These data reaffirm the vital role that vocational and technical education plays and must continue to play in our community,” Machiniak said. “There are so many opportunities that students are not aware of or taking advantage of, and we need to change that. “

Dr Dan Applegate, Superintendent of Niles Community Schools and a member of the Berrien CAN leadership team, says survey results provide useful information for local school districts as they help their students create pathways for their post-secondary projects . “The ‘Life After High School’ survey provides educators with real-time insight into current students who are about to make their post-high school choices. Armed with this knowledge, we are better equipped to provide the necessary support so that our students can achieve their goals.


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While the survey measured what students say they want to do, what they end up doing after graduation may be another story. According to the Michigan Department of Education, only 50% of students who graduated from high school in Berrien County in the 2018/2019 school year enrolled in college within six months following graduation (this data is used for comparison purposes as it predated the COVID-19 pandemic). This number is well below the 77% who say they want to pursue a college education.

The Berrien College Access Network leadership team wants to do more research to understand what is causing the gap between these two numbers. A series of focus groups are underway to further explore this and other findings from the survey. This qualitative data will help provide Berrien CAN management with some of the “whys” behind the survey results.

Other survey results include:

Almost two-thirds of students know what the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is and know how to apply, but only a quarter have told their parents about it.
Almost two-thirds of students do not know where to look for college scholarships.
College-related students want help with scholarships, essays, and the FAFSA.
A student’s race / ethnicity has implications for their plans after high school, as does the educational level of a student’s parents.

Berrien College Access Network is a collective impact effort supported by the United Way of Southwest Michigan. Berrien CAN’s mission is to achieve a goal of 60% of residents of Berrien County achieving high quality post-secondary diplomas, certificates or other degrees by 2030. This is in conjunction with the goal of the State of Michigan for all residents of Michigan. obtaining a post-secondary diploma or diploma by 2030. Berrien CAN aims to foster an “academic” culture, reduce the barriers that prevent students from obtaining post-secondary diplomas, provide comprehensive and coordinated college access services, ensure alignment of college access resources, and encourage replication of successful strategies.

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