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Perspective and Facts: Detroit News Coverage on Detroit Promise and Detroit Promise Path

On Thursday, March 18, the Detroit News published an in-depth article on the Detroit Promise and Detroit Promise Path program, Detroit’s College Aid Program Falls Short, but Hopes Remain. The article was largely positive as it highlighted many of the successes of this unique program. The article also covered elements of the independent review of the Promise program conducted by the MDRC, a nationally recognized educational research and evaluation organization, which titled their report “Motor City Momentum”. The principal investigator of the study commented, “Everyone should take away the results of the Detroit Promise Path as positive.”

The Detroit News hosted a webinar on the Detroit Promise on March 25. It then published a column by Nolan Finley, ‘Old College Try’ Tougher for Many, a column by Bankole Thompson, Detroit Should Promise Students More Than Money, and an article, ‘Without that Support, I Don’t know if I Would Have Made it’ Student Says of Detroit Promise Path.

The Promise became the first program in the country, out of almost 300, to create a robust support program for its students – beyond securing access to a post-secondary experience and removing the tuition barrier. The Promise implemented a ground- breaking intrusive student coaching model designed to help these Detroit-based, largely persons of color, high poverty students with not just academic coaching, but personal engagement to help them overcome significant challenges outside of the classroom.

The Detroit Promise and the Promise Path is funded by the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation, with the support of major national and local foundations and the City’s Promise Zone Authority.

Important Facts And Perspectives You Should Know About The Detroit Promise And Detroit Promise Path

The Promise Path is an innovative program based on successful nationwide models for improving community college graduation rates for low-income, first-generation students. Detroit Promise Path students, in addition to a tuition-free access to a college experience and small stipends, are assigned coaches to help them overcome both academic and personal barriers to graduation.

Key Promise Program Data Points:

  • Because of the Detroit Promise an additional 36% of students are still pursuing a two-year or four-year degree program. This is a significant “persistence rate” increase strongly indicating future graduations beyond the three-year study period.
  • MDRC found that Detroit Promise Path students with a coach outperformed students without coaches in numerous key measures:
    • They were more likely to enroll in college the year after high school than those who were not.
    • They were more likely to enroll full-time.
    • They were more likely to stay enrolled from year to year.
    • They were three times as likely to enroll in summer classes, a key indicator of eventual graduation.
    • They earned more college credits.
  • Students valued their coaches, with 90% considered their coaching valuable or very valuable according to MDRC research.
  • The program is remarkably affordable. The Detroit Promise Path costs only $1,944 per student over the three years of the program, compared with over $10,000 per student in other areas. Additional program resources, to assist students with transportation, books, and basic living expenses could have a profound impact on program results.

Addressing the Graduation Rate Issue:

  • The actual graduation rate for Detroit Promise Path students was 10.7%, not the 7.2% reported in the article, after three years. This clarification has been communicated to the Detroit News.
  • While MDRC’s standard evaluation period for community college graduation rate is three years, this standard is hard to adapt to the Detroit model:
    • Detroit Promise Path students overwhelmingly enroll as part-time students, making graduating in three years, even under normal circumstances, exceptionally difficult.
    • About three-quarters of Detroit Promise students must start their college experience with remedial, non-credit courses, further adding to the graduation challenge.
  • Coaches for the Detroit Promise Path report that only a half of coaching engagements are focused on academics, the balance addressed life issues such as housing or food insecurity, transportation issues, or other personal or family challenges – strongly indicating the immense challenges these students face beyond being first generation college goers.
  • In addition to the 10.7% of students who had graduated after three years, another 36% were still enrolled in higher-ed.
  • Bottom line: Detroit Promise Path has clearly demonstrated the program is successful in keeping these students enrolled and on a path to graduation – just not in the three-year study time period.

The Promise Program Meets Detroit Students Where They Are – Not Where We Wish They Were:

  • While improving in recent years, Detroit has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation – and the Promise provides an avenue for any Detroiter graduating from any Detroit high school (regardless of governance) to attend any of the five regional community colleges – regardless of high school performance.
  • MDRC reported that Detroit Promise students experienced higher poverty and homelessness levels than students participating in other community college success efforts.
  • MDRC noted that students cited reliable, affordable transportation as their single biggest barrier to remaining in school, not academic challenges.

Comparisons to Other Regions or Promise-like Programs Can Be Misleading Due to the Profile of Detroit Promise Students:

  • Detroit has the highest childhood poverty rate of any large city in the country.
  • Detroit 4th and 8th-grade students have consistently scored lower than students anywhere in the country on the National Assessment of Education Progress for more than ten years. These are the students we are trying to get successfully through college now.
  • When the pandemic struck, the Detroit Promise program secured Wi-Fi and personal computers to more than 10% of students. These students previously relied on public or shared computers – or their hand-held phones – for schoolwork.

Detroit Promise Path is a National Model: 

  • MDRC was encouraged by the Detroit Promise Path and our commitment to student success that they launched their national College Promise Success Initiative, citing the success of the Detroit Promise Path as its inspiration.
  • The Detroit approach has served as an inspiration of others. Similar programs such as those in Flint, MI and the State of Rhode Island have cited the Detroit Promise Path as their model.
  • Promise Path staff have been featured at multiple national education events to present on the program’s approach and successes.
  • One of the most important long-term benefits of the program is to send a message to all Detroiters from an early age that college is for everyone – including them – and cost is not a barrier.

Failure is Not an Option:

  • The State of Michigan forecasts the 75% of jobs in the state will require a twoyear or four-year degree or a skilled certificate.
  • Currently, 49% of Detroit Region adults have a two-year or four-year degree or skilled certificate.
  • Failure to adequately educate these young Detroiters will place their economic and social futures at risk – and serve as a drag on economic growth and prosperity for all.
  • Employers are in battle for the best educated talent. Detroit and Michigan’s ability to build a well-educated workforce is a critical for economic development.
  • MEEF and Chamber officials have always agreed that bringing this student community to degree or certificate completion would be difficult and take longer than other student cohorts.

The Detroit Promise Path Continues to Innovate:

  • A hallmark of the partnership between the MEEF, Chamber, and Mayor’s office in supporting the Promise is to always look for ways to improve – this is an ongoing and collaborative process.
  • Given the extreme cost efficiency of the Detroit Promise and Detroit Promise Path program compared to others across the nation, every additional dollar raised could be used to address the barriers the MDRC report uncovered – aiding our students with transportation to and from school, securing basic technology and course books, and addressing food and housing insecurity issues.