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April 17, 2007
More Michigan parents see college as essential
Jennifer Mrozowski and Mike Wilkinson / The Detroit News
As Michigan reels from an eroding industrial job base, parents are
getting the message: their children's success depends more than ever
on higher education.
Fifty-nine percent of Michigan parents said everyone should get a
degree, compared to 54 percent in 2005, according to a Detroit
News/Channel 7 poll of 600 people released Tuesday.
Less certain is whether parents will ensure their children get a
higher education. More than half said they'd encourage their kids to
go to college, but leave the choice up to them. Just 37 percent say
their children will definitely attend.
"The desire is there, but not the commitment," said pollster Ed
Sarpolus of EPIC-MRA.
The poll measures public attitudes at what community leaders say is a
critical time. The state must prepare for the high-tech jobs of the
future, they say, which means changing long-held attitudes about
education for a work force that's accustomed to high-paying jobs with
Among the other findings of the poll, conducted April 2-12 by
EPIC-MRA and sponsored by Your Child and the Skillman Foundation:
Nine percent of parents want their children to consider jobs in
health care -- one of the fastest growing areas of the local economy
-- compared to none in the last survey.
Parents' confidence in the state educational system's ability to
teach their kids has declined by six points.
More parents are taking action on that lack of confidence: According
to the survey, supported by state education statistics, more are
turning to charter schools -- or even their own kitchen tables as
they home-school their children.
The poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
"It's clear that parents believe their children's education is more
important than ever," said Mike Flanagan, state superintendent of
public instruction. "More people believe their children should take
harder, more challenging, courses and need more than a high school
diploma to earn a decent living."
With parents fretting about whether their children will have the
opportunities for success, experts say the changing attitudes reflect
a hopeful trend for a state that ranks below average in the
percentage of adults with a college degree.
Deidra Highbaugh said she moved her children from a Detroit public
school to Detroit Edison Public School Academy, a charter school,
because she believed the charter would do a better job of preparing
her children for college, which is something she and her husband
expect of their kids.
"It's not that I don't want them to make their own choices,"
Highbaugh said. "But they have to have a college education if they
are going to make it as adults and enjoy their lives."
Laura Perna, an associate professor of higher education at the
University of Pennsylvania, cautioned that the apparent swell of
support for college could also be a reflection of the faltering
economy -- attending college becomes more common when job
opportunities narrow, she said. But overall, she said it could bode
well, since research has shown that parental involvement and
encouragement lead to higher college attendance rates.
"I think it's good news that parental attitudes are improving toward
higher education," she said.
But it also takes money and solid academic preparation to get to
college, Perna said. For parents who didn't go to college, it
requires more effort to navigate what may be a foreign world.
"The onus is really on parents to bridge that gap and it can be
difficult when they don't have the first-hand knowledge and
experience with higher education themselves," she said.
You can reach Jennifer Mrozowski at (313) 222-2269 or
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Detroit Regional Chamber, the DTE Energy Foundation, WXYZ (Channel 7)
and The Detroit News are sponsoring a live town hall meeting on
education to air 8-9 p.m. Thursday on Channel 7. Panelists will
discuss the importance of a high-quality education in the