In 2006, due to demand from education advocates, colleges and the business community, the legislature took on the challenging task of increasing requirements for high school graduation by creating the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC). Before the MMC was created, the only state requirement to graduate was civics. The rest of the requirements were left to each local district and varied widely across the state. This patchwork of requirements resulted in many students not having access to rigorous career- and college-ready coursework, which limited their options after graduation. 

These new graduation requirements were crafted around the belief that all students would need post-secondary learning opportunities beyond high school. They included: four years of English, four years of math including Algebra II, three years of social sciences, two years of a foreign language and one year each in physical education and the arts. At the time of passage, the MMC made Michigan a leader in helping equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in a global economy and an emerging workforce. 

Unfortunately, as soon as the MMC was signed into law, there began an ongoing effort to weaken the requirements. These efforts continue today with proposed legislation that chips away at the foreign language requirement. House Bill 5190 would add a new requirement for all students to take a personal finance course. There is certainly a need for many students to learn these important life skills. Unfortunately, as written, the bill would allow students to opt out of more rigorous math or foreign language coursework. Another piece of legislation, House Bill 4326 would allow students to replace their foreign language coursework with computer coding. Computer coding is an important skill and could be relevant for many students, but it should not replace taking a foreign language. 

Eliminating the foreign language requirement would be problematic because many colleges require high school students to have completed at least two years of a foreign language. If students choose other classes instead, they may be at a disadvantage and have less choices of colleges to apply to. There is also concern that if some students are not required to take two full years of a foreign language, many districts will stop offering as many options. This could lead to limited access to these courses for all students. This is particularly a concern for underserved students in under-resourced schools. If the legislature believes that personal finance or computer coding are important, they should not add them at the expense of the foreign language requirement. 

Since the passage of the MMC, Michigan has made gains in preparing students for college. But there is still room for improvement. In our most recent report we note that nearly a quarter of students entering college still need remedial coursework. That number is worse for Black students. Nearly half — 43.8 percent — needed remediation. Rather than making incremental changes to the MMC, state leaders should examine how well the current graduation requirements are working to improve opportunities and access for all students. This should include a broader discussion to determine what skills colleges and employers are looking for and how we ensure all students have access to acquire those skills.