New State of Education Report Details Education and Talent Needs of the Region

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s inaugural State of Education report serves as a call to action that change is needed to improve outcomes for education and talent to guarantee economic prosperity for the region. Chamber Chief Operating Officer Tammy Carnrike presented the report to more than 150 attendees at the new State of the Region session “Detroit 2030: From Education Crisis to Talent Hub.” Here are the key takeaways:

Though disparities in postsecondary outcomes exist between the city and the region, the region as a whole lags behind the nation in key measures

The leaks in the regional talent pipeline, where students are dropping off before earning a degree, exist not at just one stage but are prevalent throughout the pipeline.

With only 47% of regional students who enroll in college persisting to graduate after six years, there is a need to not just enroll students in postsecondary education but to ensure they earn a degree or credential, according to the Michigan Education Data Center.

The Detroit region, more than any of its national peers, must make education attainment a top priority to compete in today’s increasingly complex economy.

According to the U.S. Census American Community Survey One-Year Estimates, there are 694,995 regional adults who have postsecondary experience, but “stopped out” before earning a credential. Reengaging these adult students provides a significant opportunity for increasing education attainment.

In 2017, 36% of college graduates left the state within 12 months of graduating, according to Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. Keeping the educated talent in our state post-graduation will contribute to increasing the population of adults with degrees.

State of Education: Detroit’s Turnaround

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District, discussed the city’s challenges in improving its schools, naming poor infrastructure and need for support from the business community as some of its challenges. Carnrike discussed with Vitti the district’s achievements in recent years, and its areas for opportunity.

Detroit students lag behind students in surrounding school districts because of economic inequality, said Vitti. Public schools in wealthier districts receive considerably more funding per student, giving them the advantage over Detroit students.

“To educate the average Detroiter takes more funding than educating the average Birmingham student,” Vitti said.

Students also face non-academic relation issues, Vitti explained. He notes that social-economic factors should not be discounted, including food and housing, and that Michigan has been stagnant from a systems policy perspective.

“We have to think about strategies and investments to change that.”

Carnrike asked Vitti on what he considers to be the district’s two-year priority challenges. Vitti named investing in teachers, career opportunities for students, and infrastructure.

“Facilities do matter – our schools are deteriorating,” said Vitti. “By 2023, our buildings would need 1.5 billion dollars. The state does not mark one cent for capital improvement.”

While the district struggles in many areas, it has made strides in recent years. Enrollment has increased for the first time in over a decade, said Vitti. And most students showed improvement individually.

“Our level of improvement outpaced the rest of the state,” said Vitti.

Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Says District Is ‘Primed to Get this Right,’ Just Need Time

All students will have the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to thrive in the city, nation, and world. That is the vision Nikolai Vitti, superintendent for Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) shared with the Detroit Drives Degrees Leadership Council, comprised of high-level regional stakeholders representing education, business, philanthropy and government.

Vitti, a native of Dearborn Heights, returned to Southeast Michigan this spring from Jacksonville, Fla. as one of the preeminent superintendents in the country, to help solve many issues facing DPSCD.

“What I inherited… is a system that didn’t have systems and processes in place to support teaching and learning and scaling the pockets of excellence that existed in Detroit Public Schools,” explained Vitti. “That’s everything from curriculum, to hiring principals, to training principals, to intervention materials for students who are behind in reading and math, to wraparound services that need to be integrated and aligned.”

Moving forward, Vitti explained that change at scale is happening, and it is being driven by the schools. In the past, the district was not able to move strategically in any one direction. Instead the district lied dormant because it was being managed like a business in bankruptcy. Today, the district is progressing and is focused on creating college and work-ready paths for students.

Three top priorities Vitti shared with the Council to ensure students graduate and have options after high school are:

  1. Make sure every high school has access to rigorous curriculum and accelerated programs.
  2. Make sure every high school has a career academy with different programs like manufacturing, nursing or engineering.
  3. Create a college-ready culture through the implementation of the Common Core curriculum and provision of SATpreparatory classes for 10th, 11th and 12th grades.

These are just three priorities that fall into his “Blueprint 2020” plan that Vitti developed to “educate and empower every student, in every community, every day” to build a stronger Detroit. Read more about the strategic plan for rebuilding Detroit’s public schools here.

“We are primed now on behalf of the students to get this right. Emergency management did not work. We now have an elected and powerful board, that hired a superintendent with a track record of reform, and I’m from metro Detroit; I want to be here,” Vitti urged. “Give us time without the interference and politics to get this right. We will get it right. We have a good board that’s very focused on policy, a superintendent that has implemented reform, and a union that’s buying into the reform. All the components are there from strong nonprofits like The Skillman Foundation that is stepping up and wanting to work with the district, to businesses that are getting involved, and a mayor that’s invested. All the pieces of the puzzle are in place, we just need time to put it together.”

Vitti’s presentation and goals for the district align with the Chamber’s goal of improving education attainment to drive economic prosperity and social mobility.

Detroit Drives Degrees, an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Forward Detroit strategy, is focused on increasing post-secondary degree to 60 percent across the region by 2025. For more information on Detroit Drives Degrees, please visit