Jacques: Translate ‘Free College’ Into More Graduates

October 29, 2019

The Detroit News

Ingrid Jacques 

Wayne State University’s recent announcement that it will offer free tuition to Detroit freshmen is no doubt welcome news to students and families throughout the city.

Yet simply growing enrollment does not necessarily translate to more students with degrees.

Cost is certainly a barrier for many low-income students. But it’s not the only one.

Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent for the Detroit Regional Chamber, understands the roadblocks facing Detroit youths. Since 2013, the chamber has administered the Detroit Promise program that offers taxpayer-funded scholarships to city high school graduates for community college. The program also runs a separate four-year college scholarship. More than 3,500 students have participated to date.

When it got off the ground, the program had a difficult time attracting students to apply, and ones that participated didn’t often stick around for a second year.

Those numbers are starting to improve, as the chamber has begun matching students with campus coaches and other assistance. Handel says 67% of four-year students are still enrolled by the third year. Plus, the Detroit Public Schools Community District has hired 20 college transition advisers, which he says is hugely helpful.

The chamber, along with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and business leaders, is pushing for 60% of residents to have a post-high school degree or certification. The state average is currently about 45%, but in Detroit it’s lower.

“There is more awareness around opportunities for higher ed,” Handel says. “It helps us to our ultimate goal of increasing the number of individuals with a post-secondary degree.”

And it seems locally-run programs like Detroit Promise are best suited to understand the needs of students in their communities. That’s something for the governor, who has called for more intervention at the state level, to consider.

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Debt forgiveness program to start at Henry Ford, other local colleges

April 30, 2019

Press and Guide

The Detroit Regional Chamber with higher education institution partners Henry Ford College (HFC), Oakland University (OU), and Wayne State University (WSU) announced an innovative new program that will remove a primary barrier to degree completion for thousands of adults in the Detroit region.

The program targets the 693,000 adults across the Detroit region with college credits, but no degree, by offering debt forgiveness of previously incurred educational debt at WSU, OU and HFC provided that students enroll at any of these three institutions, remain current on their new higher education financial obligations, and make progress towards degree or certificate completion.

This effort is part of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s region-wide goal to improve the postsecondary attainment rate from 40% to 60% by 2030. Targeting the 693,000 adults with some college but no degree is a prime opportunity to progress toward the 60% goal.

WSU, OU and HFC have jointly agreed to the following principles:

• Unlimited. There is no cap to the number of students that can participate.

• Flexible. Both community college (maximum debt forgiveness of one half of total outstanding student debt) and four-year university programs (maximum $1,500 of debt forgiveness) included.

• Reciprocity. Participating institutions agree to share academic transcripts with other participating institutions for students enrolled in the program, if students agree to enroll in a payment plan.

“One of the most effective ways to increase our region’s education attainment level is to remove barriers to those adults who already have some college credits to be able to complete their degree or certificate program. This multi-institution debt forgiveness program will be an important element of moving our region’s educational attainment rate to the 60% goal,” noted Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Chamber.

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Michigan has 1.6M college dropouts. Debt forgiveness may lure them back.

April 30, 2019

Bridge Magazine

Chastity Pratt


Henry Ford College and Oakland University are set to announce Tuesday that they will join Wayne State in a cooperative agreement to offer college debt forgiveness incentives. Any student who takes advantage of up to $1,500 in debt forgiveness would be able to transfer between the colleges.

The initiative is part of an effort announced by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and supported by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce to improve the state’s post-secondary education attainment rate from 40 percent to 60 percent by 2030.

The Detroit Regional Chamber is assisting with the outreach and reconnecting former students with the debt forgiveness process.

“One of the most effective ways to increase our region’s education attainment level is to remove barriers,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the chamber.

“This multi-institution debt forgiveness program will be an important element of moving our region’s educational attainment rate to the 60 percent goal.”

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3 metro Detroit colleges to forgive debt for returning students to complete degree

April 30, 2019

Detroit Free Press

David Jesse


In metro Detroit alone, about 693,000 adults attended some college but didn’t graduate. Some 13,000 of those went to Wayne State, while 11,600 went to Henry Ford and another 8,300 attended Oakland.

Records show that 25% of students at the three schools — 24,016 students — who stopped going left with some sort of financial hold on their accounts.

The plans are being promoted by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“It’s a great way to ease the path back into college,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the chamber. “If we create a lot of jobs, but don’t have local people who can take those jobs, it’s not as good for the region.”

The plan also meshes with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s overall plan to increase college attainment across the state, said Brandy Johnson, adviser, postsecondary education and workforce development to Whitmer.

“It sends the message that we need the talent and are willing to do what we can to help,” she said. “It’s really signaling to the population that we want them to get these” degrees and credentials.

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Metro Detroit colleges offer debt relief to former students

April 30, 2019

The Detroit News

Breana Noble

Students who attended but did not graduate from three Metro Detroit higher education institutions will have the chance to cash in on a new debt forgiveness program to go back to school.

The program, led by the Detroit Regional Chamber, is for the 693,000 adults across southeast Michigan with college credits but no degree and is aimed at improving the region’s postsecondary attainment rate from 44%. It is one of the first multi-institutional regional debt forgiveness programs in the country.

So far, Wayne State University, Oakland University and Henry Ford College have agreed to participate.

“We have a large number of adults who started but never got a degree,” said Greg Handel, the chamber’s vice president of education and talent. “A large percentage stopped because they had financial issues. We thought we would convene this partnership to try and improve the educational outcomes for the region.”

Community college programs, like Henry Ford, are offering maximum forgiveness of one-half of total outstanding student debt. Four-year university programs, like Oakland and Wayne State, are offering a maximum of $500 of debt forgiveness per semester for up to three semesters.

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Debt Forgiveness Programs Coming To Three Major Colleges In Metro Detroit

April 30, 2019

WWJ News Radio


Both Wayne State University and Oakland University are willing to waive up to $1,500 off of the debt owed, while Henry Ford College will forgive up to one half of a students debt.

Detroit Regional Chamber Vice-President Greg Handel says they want to improve the region’s post-secondary attainment rate, which now stands at 40 percent.

“We wanted to being a survey of our business members in the near future,” said Handle, “to start to find out what kind practices they have in place in terms of tuition support for their employees, and encourage more companies to offer tuition supports and other kind of supports to help their employees to get degrees.”

Wayne State has used a debt forgiveness program called ‘Warrior Way Back’ which has benefitted the 100 or so students involved, leaving University President M. Roy Wilson encouraged.

“I think that once it’s up to scale, said Wilson, “that it could be thousands, maybe tens of thousands of students, could benefit.”

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Butzel Long attorney Ivonne M. Soler featured during seminar on Women’s Empowerment in Detroit

DETROIT, Mich. – Butzel Long attorney Ivonne M. Soler was a featured speaker during a seminar presented by the Mexican Consulate in Detroit on March 4, 2019
at Wayne State University. The seminar focused on Women’s Empowerment. Soler discussed the use of the law as a tool for the empowerment of women.

Based in Butzel Long’s Detroit office, Soler concentrates her practice in the areas of family law litigation and commercial litigation. She represents clients with family and domestic relations issues, including divorce, property division, spousal support, child support, child custody and parenting time, change of domicile, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, post-judgment enforcement, adoption and assisted reproduction (family building) issues. She also represents clients in general matters pertaining to business and commercial litigation, including breach of contract actions and non-compete, trade secrets, and unfair competition disputes.

Soler is a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law (J.D., cum laude, 2013) and Wayne State University (B.A., cum laude, 2006). While in law school, Soler served as the Associate Director of the Moot Court Board of Advocates, the President of Conexiones: The UDM Hispanic Law Society, and a member of the Dean’s Honor Society. She also enjoyed many honors while in law school, including book awards for the highest grade in Legal Writing and Trial Practice. She also was the winner of the 2012 Patrick A. Keenan Memorial Appellate Advocacy Tournament.

A native of Puerto Rico and fluent in Spanish, Soler is actively involved with the Hispanic Bar Association (HBAM) and the Women’s Lawyer’s Association of Michigan (WLAM). Notably, Soler serves on the Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan. She was appointed by former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.

About Butzel Long

Butzel Long is one of the leading law firms in Michigan and the United States. It was founded in Detroit in 1854 and has provided trusted client service for more than 160 years. Butzel’s full-service law offices are located in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.; New York, NY; and, Washington, D.C., as well as alliance offices in Beijing and Shanghai. It is an active member of Lex Mundi, a global association of 160 independent law firms. Learn more by visiting www.butzel.com or follow Butzel Long on Twitter @butzel_long or : https://twitter.com/butzel_long

Workforce solution? Tuition help for workers that actually helps

October 21, 2018

Crain’s Detroit

By: Chad Livengood

With employers scrambling to find new workers with the right talents and skills to fill critical jobs, perhaps they’re already under the companies’ roofs.

Many companies offer tuition assistance or reimbursement programs for employees to go back to school and earn a certificate or degree or just to take certain courses to hone skills the employer needs.

But there’s a big barrier for employees to enroll in college courses: the upfront cost.

For example, a single three-credit-hour graduate class at Wayne State University costs $2,100. At Oakland University, taking junior-level courses part time (nine credit hours) to finish a bachelor’s degree costs nearly $4,500. Per semester.

Credit card giant Discover Financial Services Inc. found the upfront cost caused lower-level call center employees to drop their higher-education ambitions because they simply couldn’t afford to front the cost of tuition, books and fees — and then wait months for reimbursement.

“That’s an enormous cash-flow problem,” said Jon Kaplan, chief learning officer for Discover Financial Services.

At an employee town hall meeting in June, the Riverwoods, Ill.-based credit card company announced a change in its tuition reimbursement benefit to a tuition remission where the company pays three universities directly for their employees’ tuition, books, fees and any taxes if the benefits exceed the $5,250 federal limit for educational reimbursements.

“There was an audible gasp from the audience when we rolled it out,” Kaplan said Tuesday during a discussion at a Detroit Regional Chamber breakfast meeting at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Kaplan was making a case to business leaders in attendance that they should rethink their tuition reimbursement programs as one solution to addressing the talent gap.

“We think it’s going to be a very minimal expense to get 1,000 people every year enrolled in college,” Kaplan said.

There’s some evidence that tuition reimbursement programs do have a return on investment for employers. The Lumina Foundation studied Cigna Corp.’s tuition reimbursement program between 2012 and 2014 and found it had a 129 percent ROI for the global healthcare services company through fewer turnovers and staying with the company longer, cutting down on HR management costs.

Employees who used Cigna’s tuition benefit also saw their wages grow by 43 percent after they attained new skills and got promotions within the company, according to the Lumina study.

For switching to tuition remission model, there are some mechanics that each employer has to work out, Kaplan said.

Discover hired for-profit firm Guild Education to manage its tuition remission program and negotiate lower tuition charges with the three partnering universities — economies of scale that an individual employee couldn’t achieve on his or her own.

The credit card company requires each employee enrolled in its Discover College Commitment to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can reduce the tuition bill, depending on what aid they qualify for.

Discover also is no longer policing its employees’ grades like it used to. Under its old tuition-reimbursement program, if an employee failed a college course they’d already been reimbursed for, they had to repay the company for the cost, Kaplan said.

“We actually found that our employees would quit,” Kaplan said. “They’d rather run than try to pay that back.” Under the new remission program, the company stops paying the tuition bill if an employee’s grades slip.

“We’ll pay for that D, we’ll pay for an F,” Kaplan said. “But you may not be able to get back into the program if you don’t increase your grades.”

And Discover Financial isn’t paying for degrees in poetry or Latin. The company has tailored its tuition remission benefit to seven specific degrees in fields that would benefit the company.

Discover company officials are trying to build loyalty in its existing lower-skilled workforce while getting them trained for jobs that require more skills.

It’s an interesting approach compared with the frantic hunt underway in most human resources departments right now for talent.

And for big businesses like Discover, it’s a new approach to tackling the talent crisis without waiting for some outside force — such as politicians — to fix the educational pipeline that more and more companies are finding to be broken.

“If you start investing in your frontline workers, it’s like putting chips on the table all over the place — you’re getting a lot of return for that,” Kaplan said. “It’s an easier way to build talent.”


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Attorney Blair Gould Joins Dickinson Wright’s Troy Office

Dickinson Wright PLLC is pleased to announce that attorney Blair D. Gould has joined the firm’s Troy office as Of Counsel.

Mr. Gould’s practice focuses on commercial real estate transactions including acquisitions, dispositions, leasing, financing and real estate development as well as property tax appeals.

Mr. Gould received his B.S. from Ohio State University and his J.D. from Wayne State University Law School.

About Dickinson Wright PLLC
Dickinson Wright PLLC is a general practice business law firm with more than 475 attorneys among more than 40 practice areas and 16 industry groups. Headquartered in Detroit and founded in 1878, the firm has 19 offices, including six in Michigan (Detroit, Troy, Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Saginaw) and 12 other domestic offices in Austin and El Paso, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; Nashville and Music Row, Tenn.; Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Silicon Valley, Calif.; and Washington, D.C. The firm’s Canadian office is located in Toronto.

Dickinson Wright offers our clients a distinctive combination of superb client service, exceptional quality, value for fees, industry expertise and business acumen. As one of the few law firms with ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certification, Dickinson Wright has built state-of-the-art, independently-verified risk management controls and security processes for our commercial transactions. Dickinson Wright lawyers are known for delivering commercially-oriented advice on sophisticated transactions and have a remarkable record of wins in high-stakes litigation. Dickinson Wright lawyers are regularly cited for their expertise and experience by Chambers, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, and other leading independent law firm evaluating organizations.