Business Leaders for Michigan releases community college report, provides recommendations to improve graduation rates, close talent gaps and improve competitiveness

July 18, 2023
| Share On
  • New report recognizes the potential and need for community colleges that strengthen local communities and people, prepare students for college and careers and connect job seekers and job providers
  • Michigan ranks 49th for community college completion nationally and 48th for enrollment, and lacks sufficient state supports and focus to overcome barriers to success
  • Report details areas of progress and provides recommendations based on benchmarking success around the country


DETROIT – As Michigan looks to grow jobs, income and population, and succeed in navigating economic disruptions and the future of work, a high-performing community college system will be essential, according to a new report released today by Business Leaders for Michigan. The report, “Compete to Win: Building a World Class Community College System,” is focused on the critical role of community colleges and calls for comprehensive, collaborative action targeted at improving the state’s community college outcomes.

Community colleges can open doors for Michigan residents to earn higher incomes, strengthen our economic competitiveness, improve placemaking and grow the state. Today, Michigan ranks 49th nationally in community college completion and 48th for its 10-year enrollment growth. Additionally, systemic equity gaps continue, with the three-year graduation rate for students of color 9 percentage points behind white students. Michigan also is the only state in the nation without a statewide agency focused on community college success – though recently it took a step to change that with the announced creation of the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential.

There have been important steps taken to increase the number of Michiganders with a degree or certificate, including adoption of a statewide goal of having 60% of our adult population with a post-high school credential or degree by 2030, enactment and expansion of programs such as Michigan Reconnect that provide tens of thousands of Michiganders tuition-free paths to a degree, and the strengthening of student supports and success programs. Improving outcomes at community colleges will be vital to helping the state reach the sixty-by-30 goal.

“Michigan’s community colleges are designed to meet the needs of employers and provide pathways to prosperity for students from all walks of life. If we hope to become a Top 10 state, we need to make sure they succeed,” said Jeff Donofrio, President and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. “It’s essential that we drive greater agility, scale and innovation, as well as improvements to enrollment and graduation rates, if we want to become a more competitive state. It’s time to change the status quo and help our community colleges, and those they serve, succeed.”

Business Leaders for Michigan’s recommendations will help drive  transformational change.

“As Michigan works to become a more competitive state, we must take immediate steps to improve our education systems. Businesses and people follow opportunity,” Donofrio said. “Failure to act will cost us exponentially more – through low state rankings, out migration and employers choosing to grow elsewhere. Community colleges can become one of our greatest assets for building a more robust talent pipeline and strengthening our state’s economy.”

The recommendations outlined in the Business Leaders report will:

  • Increase statewide supports for community colleges and their students
    • With strong leadership, transparency and funding linked to outcomes and equity
    • With student supports that will improve graduation rates and career success
  • Expand and streamline programs that provide tuition-free pathways to community college and transfer to 4-year institutions
  • Improve employer connections and innovation in training
  • Strengthen our K-12 system to provide a stronger foundation for post-high school success

Stakeholders across the state expressed support for the report and its recommendations.

“With the data and recommendations in this report, Business Leaders for Michigan highlights the critical importance of community colleges to statewide economic growth and prosperity for Michigan residents. We look forward to working together with Business Leaders and our partners on this call to action,” said David Egner, President & CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “The work of Detroit Drives Degrees Community College Collaborative (D3C3), a partnership of the Detroit Regional Chamber and seven community colleges in Southeast Michigan with Wilson Foundation and Ballmer Group support, is a promising start in implementing systemic strategies and approaches that can lead to lasting improvements towards student success.”

“A strong and innovative community college system is critical to the state’s sixty-by-30 goal, our own goal of increasing post-secondary attainment in Oakland County, and the future vibrancy of our economy. This report shines a light on both challenges and opportunities and presents important recommendations for our state to act on. Community colleges must help ease the transition academically and financially for high school students, provide improved career pathways for adults through college degrees and industry-recognized training programs, and make sure businesses have the skilled workforce they need in a fast-changing economy,” Oakland County Executive David Coulter said.

“Community colleges provide Michiganders the ability to quickly enhance their knowledge and skills to fill the more than 100,000 good-paying jobs employers need to fill. The report provides a clear path to improve access, increase completion rates, and help more Michiganders thrive. TalentFirst and our Michigan Center for Adult College Success look forward to working with Business Leaders for Michigan to implement the recommendations,” said Kevin Stotts, President of TalentFirst.

“This is a valuable report providing critical perspective on where the State stands with respect to our community colleges and potential paths forward for developing a more effective talent development system. We’re particularly pleased to already be partnering with funders, community colleges and employers as part of Detroit Drives Degrees Community College Collaborative (D3C3), to effect equity focused, systems level change,” said Sandy Baruah, President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“This report lays out clear goals and specific tactics that could help Michigan become more competitive. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature to develop policies that will help our community colleges succeed and help more Michiganders reach their full potential,” said State Rep. Graham Filler, (R-Clinton County).

“The data is clear: Michigan must do more to support our students and our community colleges so that we can close talent gaps and provide more opportunities for our citizens to get the degrees and credentials they need to earn family-sustaining wages. It’s time for us all to come together to make real and sustainable changes that will make Michigan a Top 10 state for talent,” said State Sen. Sam Singh, (D- East Lansing).

The community college recommendations tie back to Business Leaders’ 2023 Holistic Economic Development Framework. The framework urges the state’s elected leaders, educators, community leaders and employers to address talent, economic development and business climate through comprehensive planning and action. The development of a strong economic and educational infrastructure that transcends trends and political terms is critical if Michigan is to earn a place among the country’s Top 10 states for economic development.

Download the Community College Report

# # #


About Business Leaders for Michigan:

Business Leaders for Michigan, the state’s business roundtable, is dedicated to making Michigan a Top 10 state for jobs, education, widely shared prosperity and a healthy economy. The organization is composed exclusively of the executive leaders of Michigan’s largest companies and universities. Our members drive 40% of the state’s economy, generate over $1 trillion in annual revenue, employ more than 540,000 people in Michigan, and educate more than half of all Michigan public university students. Find out more at