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Detroit Promise Provides More Than 600 Students with Tuition-Free College for 2018 School Year

By: Michael Lewis II

“Would I have attended college if I didn’t have the Detroit Promise? Probably not.”

Those were the words of Eastern Michigan University sophomore Raynisha Pannell during the program’s fifth annual Summer Social event held at Focus: HOPE last week. Pannell is one of more than 600 new students who will participate in the Detroit Promise this year.

Since the Detroit Regional Chamber began administering the program in 2013, more than 2,700 students have attended a two-year or four-year college or university tuition-free.

“The Detroit Promise isn’t like other scholarships,” Pannell said. “Other scholarships don’t have someone to work with you to make sure everything is right or provide networking events. That’s what I appreciate the most.”

The Detroit Promise team has made it a mission to provide more than just last-dollar financial assistance.

“The idea behind the Summer Social is to be able to meet with all of the students at one time and review all of the things they need to know to successfully enter college,” said Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent for the Chamber. “It’s also a chance for students to connect with people from the schools they’re going to, both the higher education partners and students.”

This enhanced summer engagement is part of a multipronged strategy known as the Detroit Promise Path. The strategy was developed in collaboration with the national MDRC education research organization and is designed to increase students’ academic outcomes. Other components include campus coaches who help students navigate academic and personal issues; monthly financial support contingent on meeting with coaches; and student monitoring throughout the year.

Jewel Wilson joined the Detroit Promise team as a full-time campus coach in June and said her experience as an intern inspired her to work with the Chamber.

“Now that I have the role of a campus coach, I talk to the students in depth every day and you quickly learn about all of the little reasons college would otherwise not be possible. That is why we go beyond just giving out scholarships; we want to help fix students’ problems if we can,” she said. “After working with the students, I saw the importance of the Detroit Promise.”

Handel echoed Wilson’s sentiment.

“Making sure tuition and fees are paid is only the beginning for most kids, especially those who are first generation college-bound,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure every student is connected with a success coach to help them with anything they need administratively.”

As a first-generation student, Pannell recognizes just how important that work is for many Detroiters.

“The biggest gap between other resources like the Promise is the connection to the student,” she said. “Being able to talk to them and break down exactly what’s going on is important, because most of us simply don’t know what we don’t know. That is not something anyone else has given me.”

 

Michael Lewis II is the Digital Marketing Coordinator for the Detroit Regional Chamber.