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Detroit’s Adult College Students: ‘It’s Never Too Late to Go’

For the region’s 690,000 adults with some college education, no degree or credential, returning to school can seem daunting, especially for individuals saddled with debt. Recognizing the need to grow Southeast Michigan’s talent pipeline, Detroit Drives Degrees is working with regional leaders to increase access among adults to pursue postsecondary educational opportunities for high-quality credentials, two-year and four-year degrees.

Detroit Drives Degrees hosted its Leadership Council meeting in June, bringing together leading representatives in higher education, business, government, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. This meeting focused on adult talent and how adults can find their way back to and complete postsecondary education.

Working on a Dream

For Bob Ellis, a real estate agent and Macomb Community College (Macomb) student, returning to school was a big life decision. Raised in a working-class family, Ellis said college was never encouraged. But after a series of setbacks in his 40s, he realized he wanted to improve his life and follow his dream of getting a degree. Ellis returned to school to enhance his skills and follow his passion to help people.

Ellis struggled early on in college, as he lacked the necessary reading comprehension and study skills required at the college level. It wasn’t until he was placed into a student cohort that he was able to excel, learn study habits, and feel part of a community. Ellis transferred to Wayne State University (WSU), but faced higher tuition bills and a sense of uncertainty about his chosen degree path. He’s put his college attainment on hold while he saves money and further explores career opportunities after he obtains his degree.

Tiffany Treadwell returned to college after a career in retail with companies like Apple and Shinola. Treadwell said through her sales experience, she developed an interest in advocacy and human resources. Committed to return to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree but with few financial resources, Treadwell applied for a job with the university to take advantage of WSU’s tuition-free policy for employees. The transition back to school was challenging and although she used WSU’s tutoring programs, she didn’t meet the academic requirement for her first semester. Determined to continue, she used her advocacy skills and appealed her case to the Provost’s Office. She’s now back on-track, working and in school, as well as helping the university improve their systems for re-engaging adult students.

Both Ellis and Treadwell shared their story as part of a panel discussion moderated by David Scobey, director of the national initiative, Bringing Theory to Practice. Bringing Theory to Practice encourages and supports colleges and universities in developing sustainable campus cultures that support engaged learning and discovery, civic purpose, well-being, and preparation for a meaningful life.

A second panel moderated by Melanie D’Evelyn, director of Detroit Drives Degrees, featured Dawn Medley, associate vice president for enrollment management at WSU, Scott Anderson, vice president of human resources at Comcast, and Scobey. Focusing on the roles that institutional leaders play in an adult’s education, panelists discussed the importance of changing the learning practices that are in place, and rules that could potentially leave behind adult students due to grades or unpaid debt.

Finding Your Way Back to School

Businesses are encouraging adult education through tuition reimbursement. Comcast offers tuition reimbursement to employees and research by the Lumina Foundation showcases the return on investment for employers. WSU now offers one of the most innovative strategies in the country to re-engage adult learners. As announced at the 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference, WSU created the Warrior Way Back program for returning students. Warrior Way Back relieves past student tuition balances of former students who did not graduate.

Detroit Drives Degrees is also working to improve opportunities for adults to further their education, by focusing on creating a community of leaders that can be used to learn from each other to continue to create opportunities for adults to continue to pursue their degree. Detroit Drives Degrees is also developing a formal compact among higher education partners and others to better track and measure components of the talent pipeline, like reducing the percent of the adult population with some college, no degree.

To learn more about the Detroit Drives Degrees Leadership Council visit: www.detroitchamber.com/detroit-drives-degrees/leadership