By Brittany Flowers
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter
ST. JOHNS — The percentage of people 25 years of age or older with a bachelor’s degree in St. Johns is lower than the county, state, and national percentages.
The national average of people 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree is 28.8 percent, while the percentage in the state of Michigan is at 25.9 percent, the county with 27.7 percent, and the percentage in St. Johns falls at only 20.2 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I think it’s due to the large amount of farming in the area, and also the GM facilities in Lansing,” Jim Pittman, a sales associate at Kurt’s Appliance Center Inc. in St. Johns said, adding that at the time he graduated from high school in 1976 you could start at General Motors and earn a higher wage than what you could earn by going to college.
The GM facility in Lansing provides jobs to 1,780 people according to GM’s Corporate Newsroom website.
“It’s not quite so much that the way now, but a lot of people, you know, before the economy declined worked in the auto industry and they pretty much came right out of high school and got a job at the GM in Lansing and didn’t have to have a college degree in order to get that job,” Sara Morrison, a librarian at Briggs Public Library in St. Johns with a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree from Wayne State University said.
Though the rate of bachelor’s degrees maybe be lower, the high school graduation rate in St. Johns is actually higher than both the state and national averages, according to the census bureau.
The percentage of high school graduates or higher in St. Johns is very high at 90.2 percent, while the percentage in the state of Michigan is 88.9 percent, and the national percentage is at 86 percent, also according to data from the census bureau.
So why is the rate of degrees so low, but the percentage of high school graduates so high?
Morrison said it may be due to the fact that the city is predominantly an agricultural community.
“A lot of them they grew up on family farms and went right into, into the farming industry,” Morrison said, adding that they may not have felt the need to attend college because they already had the tools they needed to do the job.
According to citystats.org, only 15 percent of the population of St. Johns works in professional and related occupations, which means 85 percent of the population works in fields such as construction, farming, sales, service, and part movement and production- most of which don’t require college degrees.
Michigan State University Assistant Professor of Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education Patricia Marin said the schools play a large role in the decision to attend college and things such as the quality of the curriculum, the availability of resources, the teachers, discussions of college as an option, and preparation for college are large contributors to whether or not a student chooses to continue to go on to higher education.
“What’s the interest of college based on the experience they’ve had so far with education? Have they been turned on to learning? Have they been turned off from learning? What are the messages they’re getting regarding learning whether that’s from society, from their school, from their family about you know, their ability and whether they can or can’t go,” Marin said.
St. Johns High School is the only high school in the city and according to U.S. News and World Report on education, based on a college readiness index of 100, St. Johns High School falls at an index of merely 26.6.
Also according to U.S. News and World Report, based on the state proficiency exam, 81 percent of students are not proficient in math, and 43 percent are not proficient in reading.
Marin also said that sometimes it’s related to rural and agricultural areas and sometimes it’s related to urban and vocational kinds of jobs.
“A student may see that their family didn’t go to college but they plant and raise things- whether they’re farmland donors or just workers. They may see that they didn’t have to go to college and that’s what they do and they make a living by doing farming,” Marin said.
Pittman said these trends seem to be changing slowly over time.