STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

If school doesn't work for you, what's the next best way to get ahead?

Colin Duft/KOMU News

Tomorrow you can hear Dustin Dwyer's "College Material," a new documentary about first generation college students. The challenges that come when you're the first in your family to go to college are considerable, but so are the victories.

The dream of making good and living a couple of rungs higher up the economic ladder from your parents is a tremendously strong college recruitment tool for low-income kids (as is the data showing that without a degree, economic mobility is likely not happening).

Despite this cold hard fact, lots of kids still don't go to college, about a million of them, or 35% of high school graduates. More than half a million more are dropping out before they even get to graduation.

Those statistics are the kiss of death to the future economic health of those young people. The same is true of the larger state and national economies that will need to keep spending on these young people as they grow, instead of benefiting from their tax revenue.

How much of the solution to this problem lies outside of high school and college and can be found in alternatives to those places that might work better for some young people? It's not realistic for us to think that high school can work well enough to prepare everybody for college.

It's not happening now as Michigan districts are graduating tens of thousands of kids that aren't proficient in the basics. Regardless of how much our schools improve, there are always going to be significant numbers of kids who want or need to just opt out of high school.

We're collecting these stories, to build a more complete picture of alternatives to high school and college and how those alternatives can lead to successful adulthood. 

If you chose an alternative school, online school, or a career academy tell us about your experience.

If you decided to go into the military right after high school or got your GED instead of a diploma, we'd like to hear what advice you have for other young people. If you dropped out of high school, let us know what kind of support and education you wanted. Email

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