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Investing in a Promise Is The Educational Roadmap, Just Ask A Student

By Preston Welborne and Greg Handel

As policymakers seek new models to drive more Michigan students in a higher education path, it is worth remembering that there is a model already in place that can yield results with the right investment.

The words of University of Michigan student Preston Welborne explain all that our state should keep in mind:

“I can still remember graduating from high school in Detroit in the spring of 2017 and wondering what was next. I knew there was an opportunity to attend community college tuition-free through the Detroit Promise, but higher education seemed like a foreign world. I didn’t have a full understanding of what college was all about, how exactly it could help me, or whether I could even succeed. I had so many doubts that even though I applied to Oakland Community College (OCC,) I didn’t enroll the fall after graduation.

That’s where the Detroit Promise Path (DPP) stepped in. A DPP success coach, Ashley Robinson, had been assigned to me when I first applied for OCC, and she began to reach out on a regular basis to provide guidance and support. At first, I was still uncertain, but Ashley’s persistent communication and coaching convinced me that I’d have the support needed to succeed in college, and I enrolled for the winter semester. Ashley’s support went far beyond helping me enroll. She helped me navigate several family hardships that had me considering dropping out on several occasions and stayed with me until I completed my associate degree.”

With Ashley’s support, Preston went on to graduate cum laude from OCC with an associate degree in cinematic arts, before transferring to U-M.

Modeled after a successful program in New York City, DPP provides success coaches who practice “intrusive advising”. An independent evaluation of the Detroit Promise Path, the program that provided Preston’s coach, showed that students assigned a coach were more likely to enroll in college, persist from first to the second year, and accumulate more college credits than students without one. While the graduation rates for students with coaches and those without them were similar after three years, large numbers of coached students were still enrolled and progressing toward completion.

In April, President Biden proposed $62 billion be set aside for evidence-based student success initiatives like DPP and other similar programs as part of his American Families Plan. Michigan’s U.S. Senators and Congressional delegation are strong supporters of this model. But to help more students succeed, it needs to expand, with investment, to reach more of them.

The data show that without the types of supports described here, too many first-generation students don’t complete their community college journeys with the kind of credentials they will need to earn family-sustaining wages. Preston Welborne has demonstrated how investments in quality programs can give talented, capable young people like himself the support they need to complete their education and succeed in our economy. Supporting investments to bring evidence-based programs to scale to support students like Preston is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide students with the education they deserve and our state with the talent it needs.

Greg Handel is the vice president for Education and Talent at the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Preston Welborne is a Detroit Promise Path student and currently attends the University of Michigan.