Detroit Promise Putting Higher Education Within Reach

Even if your career path seems hazy, the data is clear: More education leads to better prospects for earnings and employment.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Population Survey, a monthly survey of households that collects information about demographic and labor force characteristics, earnings increase and unemployment decreases as educational attainment rises. Grouping workers by education level, the report showed that those with more education have higher earnings and lower rates of unemployment than those with less education.

Plainly put, the path to a higher family-sustaining wage lies in higher education. Studies have shown that students who receive a poor education, or who drop out of school before graduating, can end up on the wrong side of a lifelong gap in employment, earnings, even life expectancy.

Education has been called the “great equalizer of the conditions of men.” And history is filled with people who have beat impossible odds and changed their life trajectory with the help of a higher education. However, with all the research done on the importance of a college education many students still view the cost of higher education as a deterrent—enter programs like Detroit Promise.

Administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Detroit Promise offers Detroit’s recent high school graduates a last-dollar scholarship – meaning all tuition and fees are covered after financial aid is applied – to any of five area community colleges. (Recently, several four-year colleges were added to the Detroit Promise for eligible students.) The scholarship covers up to four years of tuition.

The Detroit Promise looks to help remove the financial barriers to higher education. However, as the recent Brown v. Whitmer case (also known as the Right to Literacy lawsuit) argued students who have matriculated through the DPS system exhibited “substandard academic performance due to poor conditions within their classrooms, including missing or unqualified teachers, physically dangerous facilities, and inadequate books and materials.”

Conditions in the schools, the students said, had deprived them “of a basic minimum education” that allows a chance at foundational literacy which means that for some students finances may not be the only wall between them and a degree.

To help Detroit students stay the course, the Detroit regional chamber has partnered with MDRC to create the Detroit Promise Path, which adds student support services to the existing scholarship. “The services include a success coach for our community college they’re on campus who are there to help guide them to completion,” said Greg Handel vice president of education and talent for the Detroit Regional Chamber. “Those coaches are dedicated to support the students and get them connected to various on campus resources like tutoring and counseling or whatever else they may need.”

Since 2016, over 4,000 students have entered either 2 or 4-year colleges with some support from the Promise.

Simone McIntosh is one of those students. A graduate of Detroit’s Renaissance High School, Simone is entering her junior year at Michigan State University. She heard about the Promise from her high school’s college advisor.

“I always knew I would go to college but the cost was always in the back of my mind,” said Simone. “The Detroit Promise takes the burden off of students and can be used as a tool to helping Detroit students realize our collegiate dreams. I am very appreciative of the Detroit Promise.”

Simone’s parents are also happy about the Promise recalling how things were different for them when they attended school.

“My husband and I had to get 100% financial aid, loans, grants, etc, said Mrs. McIntosh. “There was no program like this for Detroit students when we went to college. The program aids in decreasing the need for loans, which decreases debt coming out of college.”

Simone has an older brother, Sylvester, who is going into his senior year at MSU and with the help of Detroit Promise the McIntosh’s are able to comfortably have two children in college simultaneously.

“The Promise has made sending two kids to college a lot less stressful, we’re very thankful for it. Without the Detroit Promise program, it would be very challenging to send two kids to college at the same time,” Mrs. McIntosh continued. “We are grateful that they are both able to take advantage of the Detroit Promise. The program is wonderful and a blessing for youth in the city of Detroit who want to achieve higher education. It gives more than just a chance or dream, but a real avenue to help them go to college.”



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