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Celebrating Diverse Voices Town Hall with University of Detroit Mercy President Antoine Garibaldi

 “The first thing to say is a college education is possible and affordable.”

The University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) President Antoine Garibaldi joined Tammy Carnrike, chief operating officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber, and a virtual audience for the fifth installment of the Chamber’s Celebrating Diverse Voices Town Hall series. This session focused on how creating equitable access to higher education opportunities can impact communities. Dr. Garibaldi shared how his university’s tuition reset is allowing more first-generation college students from Detroit to attend UDM, and the Live6 Alliance is helping the university’s McNichols campus connect with the surrounding neighborhood.

A mission focused on creating equitable access and diversity

Founded in 1877, the University of Detroit Mercy is a private, Catholic University in Detroit, and is one of the largest Catholic universities in Michigan with three campuses and more than a hundred academic degrees and programs of study.

Seeking ways to expand the university’s enrollment, diversity has always been a top priority for the university given its long history as a higher education institution in the city, said Dr. Garibaldi, who has served as UDM’s 25th president since 2011.

Recent years and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has only influenced UDM to remain committed to its mission of providing educational opportunities to students with underprivileged backgrounds.

“We’re here in a pandemic. And last year, 7% fewer students went to college, nationally,” said Dr. Garibaldi. “Many of those students were students who came from high-poverty schools, and that’s one of those areas that we really need to condense. And just, for example, 15% of students who came from high-poverty schools last year went to college, compared to about 60% in the previous year and more than 70% students from less poverty and more wealthy schools.”

This equity gap, Dr. Garibaldi said, is one of the reasons why UDM reset its undergraduate tuition in 2018, dropping from $41,158 to $28,000.

The university has also pursued and received national grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation due to one-third of its student population being comprised of first-generation college students.

“That’s pretty much what it was like in the early history of the university. In fact, very few people had the opportunity to go to college [back then]. It’s a part of our mission,” said Dr. Garibaldi.

‘The first thing to say is that a college education is possible and is affordable’

Before coming to Detroit, Dr. Garibaldi worked in higher education in other cities such as New Orleans, Louisiana, Washington, D.C., and Erie, Pennsylvania. The long-time educator said he’s seen similarities and differences between to Detroit when it comes to efforts to increase education equity and postsecondary attainment.

“One of the things I really try to do is tap into what students are looking for and what parents are looking for. We try to build on those relationships,” explained the long-time educator.

Dr. Garibaldi also said he’s often found that students are not aware of what their opportunities are in pursuing higher education.

“It’s very important for students to expand their horizons. That’s why we talk about Build a Boundless Future because that’s really something every student in high school should really think about even through our dual enrollment program,” explained Dr. Garibaldi.

Additionally, the university president said that when engaging students, particularly those of color, who live in urban areas, educators, education advocators, recruiters, and mentors alike should first make clear how accessible attending college can be. “The first thing to say is that a college education is possible and is affordable,” said Dr. Garibaldi.

He said helping students understand their financial background and the scholarships offered can help remove their fear of pursuing a higher education. Dr. Garibaldi also said supplying incoming students with successful mentors that have backgrounds similar to their own can have tremendous impact on motivation levels and overall outlook.

Connecting McNichols campus with the surrounding neighborhood through Live 6 Alliance

Formed in 2015 through a partnership of community, philanthropic, and city stakeholders led by UDM, the Live6 Alliance’s mission is to enhance the quality of life and economic opportunity in Northwest Detroit. At the center of Live6 Alliance’s place-based investment strategy is Detroit’s Livernois and McNichols (6 Mile) commercial corridors – the location of UDM’s McNichols campus.

“The work we’ve been able to do in terms of the neighborhood and the city is largely spurred by some of the service learning our students get involved in around the city,” shared Dr. Garibaldi. “When we think about opportunities to support students, it’s not always through scholarships. Sometimes, it’s funding programs where our students really get the opportunity to participate on a very active basis.”

For more information on the various student services and programs provided by UDM, visit the following: