More people moving to some rural areas

Capital News Service

LANSING – Some rural counties are seeing more people move in, Governing magazine data shows, but some experts remain skeptical of a possible trend.

The data shows some counties, such as Isabella, Wayne, Missaukee and Grand Traverse, have lost more residents than they gained while rural counties like Crawford, Lake, Antrim and Leelanau showed growth.

However, numbers in both directions in the 12 months ending in July 2017 were small.

The “net domestic migration rate” refers to the number of people moving in versus those moving out per 1,000 population, according to Governing.

Erich Podjaske, the economic development coordinator of Crawford County, said he doesn’t see a significant number of people moving in, although the county does have plans to attract more workers..

“We are holding development summits, and we have new businesses that are opening, particularly in the trucking and manufacturing area,” Podjaske said.

But the county faces a labor shortage. “We just don’t have enough employees to fill all the positions in every area. Not just engineering, but also soft skills,” he said.

One of the problems is a lack of “nice quality housing,” Podjaske said. “People are moving here and not finding the homes or rentals that they would like.”

It’s difficult to find contractors to build single-family homes, especially because homes in Crawford County aren’t increasing in value and contractors won’t make money on them, he said. To help tackle this dilemma, the county is working on things like multifamily housing, where state assistance could potentially offset some costs.

Recreation is drawing people to some rural counties, according to Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, who lives on a farm.

He said Northern Michigan, which is typically considered rural, has roughly 4.5 million acres of public land, and “it’s fantastic place to recreate.”

“People want to get away from the hustle and bustle in urban environment, and they would rather look at slowly bubbling creek,” Cole said. “It’s a huge draw to Northern Michigan.”

Northern Michigan has hundreds of lakes and streams for fishing, boating and swimming, and some of the most phenomenal lakeshore for recreation, he said — “whether just sitting in the lawn chair, enjoying the sand in the sun, or if you want to swim in the freezing cold water of Lake Superior.”

As for whether public services meet the needs of incomers, Cole said people don’t require public services to survive. “Many folks just desire to be self-sufficient.”

Teresa Bertossi, an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences at Northern Michigan University, said it’s important to be cautious when looking at large-area data in an attempt to understand movements with or between counties.

Urbanization is still a trend, according to Bertossi.

“The overall statistics support that people are still moving to more urban areas, generally speaking, on the planet than ever before,” she said. “Outmigration continues to remain a persistent challenge for many less-developed or more rural places.”

However, Bertossi said her research has demonstrated an apparent pattern of a “sort of” rural gentrification in some non-agriculture-based, rural Lake Superior coastal communities.

“So in a way that does lead to a strain on public services, whereby working class people are forced out of their communities because they can’t find affordable family starter homes,” she said.

Another example of rural gentrification is that within some rural areas with major amenities, like Lake Superior, people are moving from larger cities and building second and third homes in rural places, Bertossi said. That trend contributes minimally to the local economy, leading to higher land values that push working class and lower income people farther away from the lake.

Jeroen Wagendorp, an associate professor at the Department of Geography and Sustainable Planning at Grand Valley State University, said the positive migration rate for rural counties may be due to movement from one rural county to another and not as much from urban to rural counties.

The cost of living in rural counties can be lower than in urban counties.

“If you live in the country, your lifestyle is subsidized by taxes paid by the people living in the city,” Wagendorp said. “The taxes in the city sometimes are twice as high as living in the country.”

New findings raise concerns about avian malaria in Southwest Michigan

Capital News Service

LANSING – The blood parasites that infect songbirds with avian malaria are far more diverse in Southwest Michigan than scientists knew, raising troubling questions about the spread of the disease and its impact on dozens of species of birds.

“Parasitism is a widely occurring interaction that drives ecological and evolutionary processes and has profound impacts on biological systems,” according to a newly published study by scientists at Western Michigan University.

And climate change could worsen the problem, said the researchers who tested 726 songbirds from dozens of species.

“As global temperatures continue to rise, the Great Lakes Basin will be of importance to malaria distribution as many vector species shift or extend their regions,” the study said. The region has more than 20,000 inland lakes, roughly 30,000 miles of flowing water, many wetlands and more than 400 species of migratory and resident birds.

Avian malaria can’t infect people or other mammals, according to biologist Maarten Vonhof at Western Michigan’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, but it can kill birds and harm their ability to reproduce.

“During the acute phase, birds can be very sick. It can cause them to die – they can’t forage in the same way, feed their offspring in the same way,” said Vonhof, a co-author of the study published in the journal “Parasitology Research.”

“None of us like to think about parasitism or disease, but parasites have a huge impact on the lives of organisms, including humans,” he said.

The project targeted 11 common species such as American goldfinches, black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals and yellow warblers. But members of 44 other species were also tested, including barn sparrows and red-winged blackbirds.

None of the birds are endangered or threatened in Michigan but one species, the field sparrow, is in steep decline. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimated a 69 percent decline in field sparrows from 1966 to 2015.

The team netted the birds, then banded, screened and released them in 12 Southwest Michigan counties.

More than 40 percent of the tested birds had the parasites, the study said.

The scientists found 71 kinds – lineages — of parasites, 42 of them previously unknown to science, Vonhof said.

“There’s all this undiscovered parasite diversity we were simply unaware of,” he said.

The Midwest diversity of avian blood parasites is likely much higher, the study said.

The avian malaria study is part of broader research at Western Michigan on how human activities influence the interrelationship of species, Vonhof said.

Another piece of that research, led by graduate student and lead author Jamie Smith, examines the impact of urbanization on avian malaria.

“Birds in urban environments have a lower prevalence of avian malaria,” Vonhof said. One reason may be that development eliminates wetlands and other habitats where mosquitoes breed.

Old UP avalanche teaches new lesson to rescuers

Capital News Service

LANSING – Dead isn’t always dead.

That’s the lesson learned from the near-miraculous survival of a 12-year-old Upper Peninsula skier who was buried head-down and unconscious in an avalanche for at least three hours.

Although the incident took place almost 80 years ago, a newly published study in the journal “Wilderness & Environmental Medicine” says it offers an important lesson for rescuers today.

The study, based on news coverage in the Ironwood Daily Globe, recounts the 1939 experience of Henry Takala, who suffered from hypothermia, a condition with an abnormally and dangerously low body temperature.

Avalanches in Michigan are “rare but not unknown,” according to the study.

A number involving the complete burials of victims have been reported in the Upper and Lower peninsulas, including a fatal 1924 accident that killed a rabbit hunter at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Michigan’s last known avalanche fatality occurred in 1982, also at Sleeping Bear Dunes, said Dale Atkins, a past president of the American Avalanche Association and co-author of the study. The National Park Service now warns winter visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that avalanches are possible on steep dunes.

So how is an 80-year-old Michigan avalanche relevant today? And what happened to Henry Takala?

As the boy was skiing, an overhanging snowdrift broke off, totally burying him and partially burying his companion. Henry’s father and neighbors dug him out and took him home, where the father administered artificial respiration for three hours.

Snow-blocked roads kept a doctor from arriving quickly.

“Whenever the father stopped his first aid work, his son would stop breathing and the work would have to be resumed,” the Ironwood Daily Globe reported. “It looked hopeless at the time, and so the father was told by the neighbors, but he continued until the boy recovered.”

The father, a miner, had learned first aid on the job.

“Although Henry appeared dead to his father at the time of extrication (from the avalanche), he was most likely breathing spontaneously. In hypothermic subjects, breathing may be shallow and difficult to detect,” the study said.

Two days after the accident, “The boys are no worse for their experience,” the newspaper reported. “Henry feels soreness in one of his legs.”

Michigan has the terrain and in some years the weak, soft layers of snow that are conducive to avalanches, Atkins said. While many people associate avalanches with the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada and Cascades, they can happen anywhere steep slopes are covered in snow.

Atkins described a 1954 incident that killed two 12-year-old boys who were sledding west of Marquette at an abandoned iron mine. Thomas Lecklin and Ernest Falo of Negaunee were buried in 10 feet of snow and a third boy was rescued.

The Michigan Snowmobile Safety Course acknowledges that they’re rare in the state, but advises snowmobilers to check with local officials if visiting a known avalanche area.

Such areas include slopes steeper than 30 degrees and where there are “overhanging masses of snow or ice, often found on a ridge,” according to the safety course. “Before crossing an unstable slope, look for possible escape routes should an avalanche occur.”

Atkins said, “Time is the enemy of the buried victim. Nature is not very kind. More people die than survive avalanche burials.”

Ken Zafren, the lead author of the study and an emergency physician in Anchorage, Alaska.

said someone with hypothermia “might look dead but might be alive. Don’t give up.”

That’s the lesson of the story of Henry Takala.

Rescuers “should attempt to resuscitate a hypothermia victim unless there is an obvious condition that is not compatible with life, such as decapitation or a completely obstructed airway,” the study said.

“Don’t give up until the victim is warm and dead or warm and alive.”

Telehealth gaining popularity but obstacles remain

Capital News Service

LANSING – Although more health systems in the state encourage their members to use telehealth services, some patients and physicians are hesitant, experts say.

Telehealth delivers health information and services through computers. It connects patients at one site with health providers at another site, according to the state’s health policy.

The main services include real-time consultations, electronic transmission of patient’s medical records to health care providers and remote patient monitoring, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.  

With the improvement in technologies and bandwidth capabilities, there is more recognition that telehealth services are worthwhile, said Bree Holtz, an assistant professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Michigan State University.

“The population is growing older and needs more health care while the research shows it [telehealth] provides the same level of care as in-person care,” Holtz said.

Stacey Hettiger, the director of medical and regulatory policy at the Michigan State Medical Society, said patients are encouraged to use telehealth services for minor problems, such as the early stage of a cold, flu, rashes and headaches.

“Telehealth is seen as option to more costly emergency room visits for non-emergency health conditions,” Hettiger said.

The telehealth service of Upper Peninsula Health System in Marquette had 4,293 telehealth visits in 2017, an increase from 3,547 in 2016, said Pamela Davis, the system’s analyst.

The most frequent uses were for neurology and behavioral health, Davis said.

With more knowledge of what telehealth service is, how it works and positive user experiences, an increasing number of members from rural areas are using it, she said.

The utilization rates of telehealth visits at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit health insurance company based in Detroit, have doubled since early 2017. Member registrations on the web and app have also doubled in the same time frame, said Meghan O’Brien, the company’s public relations manager.

The company’s telehealth service, Blue Cross Online Visits, “is especially helpful in areas of the U.S. where access to providers isn’t as robust as Southeast Michigan,” O’Brien said.

“The Online Visits app is rated 4.8 stars and 4.9 stars (out of 5) in the Apple App Store and Google Play, with members citing the convenience, low wait times and helpful doctors,” she said.

However, some rural areas face access problems, said Jennifer Morse, the medical director at the District Health Department #10. The district covers Crawford, Kalkaska, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Newaygo, Oceana and Wexford counties.

Some rural areas don’t have internet service and some people don’t have computer skills, Morse said.

There are other challenges as well. For example, U.P. Health System in Marquette is dealing with a decreasing staff size in its telehealth service.

Due to a corporate staff reduction, Davis said, “currently I’m the only one working this field. A few years ago there were four people.”

To promote its telehealth service, she said, “I would love to get out into the field to spread awareness and to go to the areas we service to see how we can do things better.”

Although telehealth services are broadly available in the state, some physicians raise additional questions.

District #10’s Morse said, “The other concerns I have, especially with urgent care needs, is over-prescribing antibiotics or misusing diagnostic tests.”

Morse also cited concerns that telehealth would negatively affect the doctor-patient relationship.

She said although technology provides doctors with advanced equipment to diagnose patients from hundreds or thousands of miles away, patients don’t always feel the same closeness or satisfaction they get from visiting a doctor in person.

As for doctors, they express concern that the use of virtual technology could affect reliability and worry that if there’s something they didn’t see, they may be sued if  something goes wrong with their patients, she added.

Another problem for physicians is “how to incorporate telehealth into their existing in-person patient workflow and how to bill for such services,” said the Medical Society’s Hettiger.

As for patients, their concern is reimbursement for services they receive, Hettiger said.

“Although there are significant concerns regarding reimbursement for telehealth services by insurers, as its application continues to grow, the states and the federal government are likely to take an active role in developing policies to address these concerns,” according to a 2017 Senate Fiscal Agency analysis.

Morse said patients need more education about telehealth services, such as “how and when it’s appropriate to utilize telehealth visits versus in-person visits.”


Mercury’s match? Sex hormones

Capital News Service

LANSING — Sex hormones might be the secret for lowering mercury levels in fish and maybe humans, researchers say.

States often issue consumption limits in areas with high concentrations of mercury in fish. The contaminant causes sickness in the people who eat them, and mercury poisoning is especially harmful to unborn children.

Not much is known about how contaminants like mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) affect fish, said Rick Rediske, senior program manager at Grand Valley State University’s Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon. They harm reproduction in ways that aren’t well known.

Researchers now believe that male fish are able to shed mercury, thanks to their testosterone.

Male fish accumulate higher contaminant concentrations than females, but also eliminate mercury more efficiently, according to a study published in 2016 in a scientific journal. They probably have testosterone to thank, said Rediske, who helped write the study.

Male fish have higher resting heart rates, are more active and tend to swim faster – -they therefore eat more and take in more contaminants like PCBs and mercury, said Charles Madenjian, the study’s lead author and a research fishery biologist with the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland.

Food is the greatest source of these contaminants in fish.

When the team tested for pollutants in Great Lakes fish, they found the males’ PCB concentrations were 17 to 43 percent higher than in females,’ he said. They expected to find a similar pattern for mercury. Instead, they found similar levels in both sexes.

“We were scratching our heads to figure out: why the difference between the two contaminants?” Madenjian said.

Sea lamprey offered some clues. Lamprey males had the sort of higher mercury levels researchers had expected to find in the other fish, indicating that they weren’t able to eliminate mercury as efficiently, he said.

Lamprey, which are an invasive parasite, are an older species with more primitive sex hormones in place of testosterone, he said. Testosterone may be the missing key that allows some fish to somehow eliminate mercury.

If true, that finding could change how scientists study mercury contamination.

“We think those characteristics apply not only to almost all species of fish, but also up to birds, reptiles, all the way up to the full gamut of vertebrates,” Madenjian said.

Rediske said researchers still need to explore that possibility. In the meantime, the study’s findings could also affect how mercury advisories are issued.

The Department of Natural Resources may want to start setting those limits more conservatively, he said. Although male fish in the Great Lakes are able to expel mercury, their intake is still high enough to leave them with higher concentrations than the females.

“It’s just a confounding factor when we set the fish advisory limits,” he said. “It would just suggest that there’s more variation than what the current models are set up to look at.”

Stephen Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.

More high school grads should go to college, advocates say

Capital News Service

LANSING — When it comes to education after high school, Michigan is falling behind the nation in sending grads off to college.

In the 2013-14 school year, 65.7 percent of high school grads enrolled in college within six months of their graduation, according to the Department of Education.

Since then, that number has declined each year, with 60.8 percent of high school grads enrolling in college within the six-month timeframe in 2016-17.

Meanwhile, the national average was 69.7 percent in 2015-16, according to the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Higher education experts say the statistics are worrisome, and several programs are working to encourage more high school grads to go to college.

“There’s some policy mechanisms, but then there’s also a broader messaging aspect, a campaign,” said Daniel Hurley, chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Hurley is bringing before his board of directors, which represents the 15 public universities, a proposal for a campaign to promote the value of a college degree to individuals and the state.

Education organizations need to change high school students’ understanding of what they need to get a good job, said Robert Murphy, the association’s director of university relations and policy.

“Part of the challenge with Michigan is that for years and years, the option was to walk out of high school, go down the street to the factory, get a job on the line, retire in 25 years with a place up north and buy a boat,” he said. “That’s not the model that works anymore.”

He said, “Unless you have some sort of post-high school education, it’s much harder than it used to be to get that middle-class lifestyle, to get that place up north of Clare.”

The association partners with other education-related organizations, including the Michigan College Access Network and the Local College Access Network, to promote higher education.

For example, Local College Access Networks “create a culture of college-going,” Murphy said.

“They place advisers in rural and urban low-income schools to help encourage college applications and FAFSA (federal financial aid) application completions particularly.”

The state universities group hired a director of student success initiatives who works with the Michigan College Access Network and provides expertise about college access and affordability, Murphy said.

As part of its effort to improve the public school system, the Department of Education is working to get more high school grads into college.

The department has implemented a plan to made Michigan a top-10 education state in 10 years, according to William DiSessa of its Office of Public and Governmental Affairs.

“Part of that plan calls for focusing on the ‘whole child’ to improve student achievement and for making students college- and career-ready by increasing their pathways to success,” DiSessa said.

Concern rising about reliance on adjunct, non-tenure stream instructors

Capital News Service

LANSING – Colleges and universities, including those in Michigan, are increasingly relying on non-tenure track faculty and adjunct faculty.

About 65 percent of faculty positions in all colleges and universities were part-time or full-time non-tenure track in 2014, according to the most recent national figures from the Center for the Study of Academic Labor at Colorado State University.

According to the center, the proportion of tenure positions fell between 2005 and 2013. The drop was especially sharp at universities that award doctorates and at colleges that award bachelor’s degrees.

In Michigan public institutions, non-tenure track instructors, whether full-time or part-time, also make up a large percentage of faculty.

At Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Saginaw Valley State universities and the University of Michigan-Flint, more than half of the faculty were adjuncts or not in tenure-track posts in 2014, the Colorado State study found.

The percentage is much higher at some community colleges, according to the study. For example, it said Grand Rapids Community College had 71.2 percent adjuncts and non-tenure track instructors and Montcalm Community College had 75.2 percent in 2014.

Some had no tenure track faculty, including Alpena, Gogebic, Lansing, Mid-Michigan and Kirtland community colleges, North Central Michigan College and Southwestern Michigan College, the study said.

Michael Hansen, the president of the Michigan Community College Association, said community colleges often employ instructors who are also working in the field in which they teach, especially in occupational programs.

“Many of them work full-time, such as health care professionals, technicians and welders, but also teach part-time at the college,” said Hansen. “Their ‘real world knowledge’ is a valuable part of their teaching content. They bring the most current content information to the classroom, which greatly benefits students.”

For community colleges, employing adjuncts to meet changing demands of enrollment is an efficient method of staffing. It’s also a way to control course and program demand, he said.

“Community colleges are open-enrollment institutions, and their enrollments tend to fluctuate with the economy,” said Hansen. “As unemployment rates rise, so do enrollments. But as the economy improves and people can find work, the enrollments tend to decline.”

According to Hansen, the fluctuation in course demand and enrollment can lead to job insecurity for most adjuncts. “Part-time faculty are hired to meet demand. As demand for more classes increases, additional faculty are hired,” he said. “As demand is reduced, those part-time faculty are not rehired since fewer classes are needed.”

Meanwhile, the problems adjuncts face continue to grow, including financial security, lack of career advancement opportunities and unfair treatment, a union leader said.

“They are paid much less than the value of their contribution to their universities’ teaching mission and not given the job security, even after years, that their hard work and excellence in teaching warrant,” said Ian Robinson, the president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization. The union represents non-tenure-track instructional faculty on all three campuses of the University of Michigan.

Last-minute course cancellations can be a major problem for adjuncts, and they are treated as “shock absorber,” Robinson said. “They are called in at the last minute if there is more enrollment in a course than expected, or canceled at the last minute if the reverse proves true.”

According to Robinson, a union with significant bargaining power, such as the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, can reduce that kind of last-minute cancellation by “putting a penalty in the agreement for units that cancel too late.”

“That’s not an adequate response to the large issues raised by the rapid growth of adjunct faculty, but it does help significantly with the narrow problem of last-minute cancellations,” he said.

There are other problems, Robinson said.

Some institutions limit adjuncts’ working hours to avoid providing health care. He said that happens particularly in cash-starved universities, where administrations are “looking to cut costs everywhere they can, no matter what the impact on quality.”

The workload for adjuncts and non-tenure stream instructors can be equal to or even higher than that of full-time tenured professors.

According to Robinson, at U-M-Ann Arbor, the normal workload for a full-time adjunct is three courses, and on its Flint and Dearborn campus, four courses per term. “In other places, it could be even higher.”

Also, adjuncts don’t receive “reasonable” pay, and their baseline wage, in real dollar terms, has decreased in past years, said Robinson.

Meanwhile, Robinson said the voice of adjuncts is rarely heard in department meetings and at the administration level. “It’s rare for adjuncts to be treated as fully enfranchised ‘citizens’ of the units in which they teach.”

The increasing reliance on adjuncts may hurt the quality of education, some experts say.

Daniel Hurley, chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said one of the attributes of Michigan’s public universities is quality. The organization represents the state’s 15 public universities.

“I think there is a perception of higher quality when an institution has more full-time faculty,” he said. For that reason, institutions need to “hold the line on the proportion of adjuncts.”

Robinson said a significant share of undergraduates are taught by adjuncts who are brand new and won’t stay long enough to get really good.

“Teaching is a craft,” he said. “More practice means better teachers.”

Though specialization and extra practice tend to generate better teachers, being treated “like commodities rather than professionals” can offset those advantages, he said.

“The quality of their performance hinges in part on being paid fairly and respected in other respects,” he said.

Most state college grads land jobs, continue education

Capital News Service

LANSING – About nine out of 10 recent graduates from four state universities have landed jobs, continued their education or made other career or volunteer commitments, according to the earliest available “first destination survey” results.

The rates among those responding to the surveys were highest at 91 percent for Wayne State and Western Michigan universities, followed closely by Northern Michigan (89.6 percent) and Central Michigan (89.4 percent) universities.

The statistics include those securing full-time or part-time employment, continuing their education such as graduate school, an additional degree or a certificate, and other activities like military service or volunteering full time.

However, the data from Northern Michigan and Central Michigan didn’t count those other commitments.

Post-graduate placement rates from the other 11 state universities are scheduled for release in the next few months.

For example, Michigan State University (MSU) will release its class of 2017 survey report at the end of February, said Everett “Rett” Weber, the data scientist for Career Services Network. Grand Valley State University is analyzing its data for release in the spring, said Susan Proctor, the employer development manager of its career center.

The First Destination Survey examines post-graduate placement of students who have received bachelor’s degrees.

The prior year’s reports showed placement rates for 2016 grads were above 95 percent at five universities: Eastern Michigan (97 percent); Ferris State (96 percent); Lake Superior State (96 percent); MSU (95 percent); and University of Michigan – Dearborn (96 percent).

The rates of the other 10 were around 90 percent: Central Michigan (89.5 percent); Grand Valley (93 percent); Northern Michigan (89 percent); Michigan Technological University (94 percent); Oakland (92 percent); Saginaw Valley State (92 percent); University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (93 percent); University of Michigan – Flint (91 percent); Wayne State (91 percent); and Western Michigan (92 percent).

Trends in overall placement rates are increasing in 10 years, according to the reports.

Lauren Leeds at the state’s Center for Educational Performance and Information said although her office collects data at the state level, it doesn’t aggregate the survey results.

Each institution conducts its own survey and prepares its own report under the guidelines of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, she said.

Robert Murphy, the director of university relations and policy at the Michigan Association of State Universities, said the employment data for new graduates is useful for universities to understand their students’ performance in the marketplace and to adjust their programs.

At Grand Valley, Proctor said the report helps the university be accountable to its stakeholders by ensuring it fulfills its mission and that graduates are contributing to the economic vitality of the community.

Furthermore, she said that with the help of the data, prospective and current students and their families can make better decisions in selection of colleges, majors and career pathways.

Stephen Patchin, the director of career services at Michigan Tech, said the placement data is used for ranking, academic accreditation and corporate recruitment.

“We use our annual report very heavily in recruiting our students in the college fairs,” Patchin said.

“We distribute 4,000 to 5,000 hard copies to MTU’s departments and gave several thousand hard copies to all students and parents that come to campus tours,” he said.

While the First Destination Survey is important to each university, fewer than half the recent graduates responded to the survey at some institutions.

MSU’s Weber said more universities are using a “knowledge rate” in their reports. That combines survey responses with information from other sources, such as the graduates’ advisers.

Proctor, of Grand Valley, said, “We are looking for strategies to help improve our knowledge and response rates,” including sending calls for responses at least six times to graduates within the first seven months after graduation, marketing through many platforms such as social media, print and personal outreach, and providing monetary prizes.

Jason Nicholas, the director of Institutional Research and Analysis at Northern Michigan, said, his office plans to increase the response rate with new marketing strategies and getting alumni support.

Fishery managers excited by lake trout’s not-so-picky palate

Capital News Service

LANSING — Scientists may have settled a debate between anglers and fishery managers over the future of the lake trout in the Great Lakes.

With salmon hauls on the decline in recent years as their favorite food dwindles, anglers are anxious to prioritize their protection even over recently resurgent native populations like lake trout.

Salmon reigned as the undisputed king of the Great Lakes fishing industry for decades after they were introduced in the 1950s to curb the invasive alewife. It was around that time that the highly lucrative lake trout fishery took a dive as populations crashed.

Alewife populations, the salmon’s key food source, have dwindled in recent years. Now anglers are afraid that the lake trout’s comeback could hasten the salmon’s disappearance and compete for the few alewife that are left, said Jory Jonas, a fisheries research biology specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.

But that’s not necessarily true. Jonas is the co-author of a new study showing that lake trout eat whatever’s available, meaning they don’t always directly compete for food with species like the Chinook salmon.

Both species mainly consumed alewife for years, Jonas said. That’s still true of most of the lake trout in Lake Michigan, where alewife populations are more stable.

Athough they’ve lost a main source of food, the lake trout’s flexible diet may make them beneficiaries after all.

“Nothing is ever truly good or bad,” she said. “It’s always a mix.”

Alewife consumption was probably harming lake trout eggs, said Austin Happel, who co-authored the diet study as a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois. He’s now an instructor at Colorado State University.

Lake trout reproduction in the Great Lakes has been handcuffed for years due to chronically low levels of thiamine, a fat-binding agent key to a healthy egg membrane, according to the study.

Fish have to consume a healthy ratio of fat and thiamine to lay viable eggs–alewife are fatty and often low in thiamine, Happel said.

The goal for lake trout is self-sufficiency, he said. That’s not the reality these days because lake trout must be stocked for populations to survive.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission seeks to protect native species like lake trout, said Marc Gaden, the commission’s communications director. But the agency is also pleased with each state’s efforts to save the salmon by growing the remaining alewife population.

“They have to take on this elephant in the room, which is that there’s not much food for the salmon to eat,” Gaden said.

Fishery managers face a balancing act. They need to support the alewife enough to meet the demand for salmon, while rooting against it–and in favor of other prey species–in the interests of the native lake trout.

The diets of lake trout differ drastically between lakes Michigan and Huron, and even between the east and west coasts of Lake Michigan.  

That kindles some hope for that balance managers need to protect both the salmon and lake trout, Jonas said.

The variation is consistent with availability – alewife in northern Lake Michigan still make up a large portion of lake trout diet, while the Lake Huron fish consume the more-abundant rainbow smelt. A booming population of round goby, another invasive, is now an important food source for lake trout in western Lake Michigan.

But Happel said the alewife’s downturn won’t necessarily solve lake trout reproduction troubles. Thiamine deficiency has been found in other Great Lakes fish that don’t eat alewife–meaning the alewife might not be the crux of that problem.

“At some point we wanted to point fingers,” he said. “We wanted to find a culprit.”

Scientists have turned the log over only to find a larger problem–the entire food web in the Great Lakes is full of fat withoutt much thiamine to offset it, Happel said.

Alewife are a large part of the problem, but Jonas said prey like rainbow smelt are also low in thiamine to a lesser extent. The good news: round goby don’t share that problem. Researchers could start seeing higher natural reproduction among lake trout in goby-rich territory like Lake Mchigan’s western shore.

Happel said the study is encouraging. If lake trout can diversify their diet–and with it, their vitamin intake–the odds look much better for reproduction.

Steven Maier writes for Great Lakes Echo.

New study highlights impact of immigrants in Michigan

Capital News Service

LANSING Amidst contentious congressional debate about immigration policy, including the future of the Dreamers program, a new report sheds light on one important aspect of the controversy surrounding immigration –  its impact on the U.S. economy.

There is no question that changing the immigration system is a priority of the administration.

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address reaffirmed his intentions to tighten the borders, reduce the number of refugees coming into the country and change the system that determines who can legally immigrate.

In its new report, WalletHub, a Washington-based finance website, analyzed all 50 states for immigrantsoverall economic impact, workforce, socio-economic contributions, brain gain and innovation.

Michigan ranked 14th overall in the national ranking, while New York took first place.

The report addressed the question of how more than 40 million immigrants living in the U.S. impact the economy.

Michigan has a growing immigrant community, with nearly 7 percent of the states residents having been born outside of the United States, according to the American Immigration Council, with the largest number living in the eastern and southern areas of the state.

The council is a pro-immigration advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The state ranked high in the WalletHub report in brain gain and innovation — 6th in the nation — an assessment that supports an American Immigration Council conclusion that immigrants “make up a vital, educated share of Michigan’s labor force.

“Nearly 40 percent of immigrants in the state possess a college or higher degree, and more than four in five report speaking English well,” the council says on its website.

In addition to contributing to innovation, immigrants in the state  have been an important part of promoting agriculture, said Susan Reed, the managing attorney of the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

The center which operates as an advocacy program and provides legal resources, has offices in Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo.

Our clients contribute to the economy in various ways, she said. In urban communities, they spur entrepreneurial energy. Migrants farmers contribute to agriculture. They work on West Michigan farms mostly, where they help produce fruits and vegetable.”

New York-based New American Economy said immigrants make up  35 percent of workers in agriculture and 11.6 percent in manufacturing in West Michigan’s Mason, Oceana, Ottawa, Lake, Muskegon,and Newaygo counties and part of Kent County. The organization represents mayors and business leaders who “support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans today.”

In that area of West Michigan, the group said 842 immigrants are entrepreneurs who contribute to the economy as consumers and taxpayers, paying a total of $72.2 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

Karen Phillippi, the deputy director of the Michigan Office of New Americans, said her agency “strongly believes in the positive impact that immigrants and refugees have and will continue to have, on the state.”

The office established by Gov. Rick Snyder “strives to make Michigan a more welcoming state for new Americans from all of over the world who are making Michigan their home, and appreciates the significant economic and cultural contributions they make to our state,” Phillippi said.

The Dreamer program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals –under review in Washington has 12,418 eligible participants in Michigan and 92.5 percent of them are employed, according to the New American Economy.

The Center for American Progress, a national liberal-leaning policy institute estimates that

removing them would have a $389.4 million negative impact on Michigan annually.