The Detroit News
April 24, 2023
Detroit — Two influential foundation are giving a southeast Michigan initiative to improve access to local community colleges about $30 million, the groups said Monday.
The Ballmer Group and Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation said their investment will improve equity in attending college and receiving good-paying jobs.
The initiative, called Detroit Drives Degrees Community College Collaborative, is a collaboration between the Detroit Regional Chamber and seven community colleges in southeast Michigan — Henry Ford College, Wayne County Community College District, Macomb Community College, Oakland Community College, Schoolcraft College, Washtenaw Community College and Monroe County Community College.
The money will be used by the schools for a variety of things, including technical help in assessing the local workforce and credential landscape, and implementing best practices to ensure student success.
Kylee Mitchell Well, executive director of the Ballmer Group in Southeast Michigan, said students facing barriers to getting college degrees deserve access to careers that could support a family.
“This partnership is designed to open new doors and create smoother pathways from education to career success,” Mitchell Well said.
David Egner, president and chief executive officer of the Wilson foundation, said community colleges are the largest and most important development asset in this part of the state. Skilled talent is directly linked to economic growth and regional prosperity, he said.
“(The initiative) is a large-scale, strategic injection of investment in our regional community college system that has the potential to make meaningful and lasting change,” Egner said.
The initiative has three objectives: address racial equity gaps by increasing the number of students who enroll and finish college, deepen pathways between K-12 schools and community colleges to expand access to dual enrollment and early college options, and build stronger partnerships with employers to develop strategies for talent pipeline development.
“(The initiative) is about transforming our talent pipeline through innovative partnerships with local community colleges that are uniquely positioned to help students enter the workforce with the qualifications employers need,” chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said.
The large amount of money given by the foundations speaks to the importance of the initiative, he said.
The initiative developed out of the Chamber’s Detroit Regional Talent Compact, a 10-year initiative to increase the region’s postsecondary attainment rate to 60% and reduce the racial equity gap by half by 2030.
Greg Handel, the chamber’s vice president of education and talent, said there’s no path to meeting educational goals without focusing on retaining students, attracting new ones and re-enrolling former students.
“Community colleges have a critical role to play in meeting these attainment goals and strengthening our talent pipeline,” he said.
Other stakeholders and technical assistance partners in the initiative are employers, CivicLab, Michigan College Access Network, Michigan Community College Association, MICHauto, and the National Institute of Student Success.