Detroit students who graduate from any high school in the city — public, charter or private — will be guaranteed two tuition-free years of community college under a program Detroit leaders unveiled today.
The Detroit Promise will pay for tuition costs not covered by grants and other scholarships students receive, and they’ll be able to attend five Detroit-area community colleges.
“We are making a promise to every single child who graduates from a high school in the City of Detroit that you will have your first two years of college paid for,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “We’re going to build from here to the point where we’re ultimately going to raise money so it can be four years, but today it’s two years.”
The Detroit Promise grew out of an effort in 2013 by the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation and the Detroit Regional Chamber, which raised funds for the Detroit Scholarship Fund, which has helped more than 1,500 Detroit students attend community college tuition free.
That effort is being expanded as a guarantee, with the first two years of the program funded by major foundations and corporate donors. Peter Remington, a philanthropy consultant who’s raising funds for the Detroit Promise, said three major foundations have already pledged $1 million each, two as matching grants. He said only one can be publicly identified now: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
Under state rules, the first two years of promise zones must be funded through philanthropy. Beginning in 2018, the Detroit Promise will be funded by increases in property tax revenue based on the 6 mills of the State Education Tax; the program will capture half of any increase in property tax revenue from the SET, officials said.
Based on projections, Duggan said the SET is expected to raise $4 million a year by 2025.
Detroit Public Schools interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather told students gathered at a news conference that it’s now up to them to be prepared for college, by getting good grades.
“You have an opportunity today that all the rest of us who grew up in Detroit didn’t have,” Meriweather said. “I want to really encourage you to do everything in your power to get ready to receive that opportunity.”
To be eligible for the program, students must be residents of Detroit and graduates of any high school in the city. And while there is no minimum grade point average requirement, the students get the scholarships only if they’re accepted to one of the community colleges.
The Detroit Promise is based on a program former Gov. Jennifer Granholm initiated in 2009, creating 10 Promise Zone communities in cities with high poverty rates. Detroit and school districts in Pontiac, Hazel Park, Saginaw, Lansing, Jackson, Benton Harbor, Baldwin and Battle Creek were eligible.
It was modeled on the Kalamazoo Promise, the program launched in 2005 in which anonymous donors pay for tuition at state universities for graduates of that city’s public high schools.
Details of the Detroit Promise were announced Tuesday at a news conference at Youthville. Duggan was joined by Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, and others.
Detroit parent Mike Washington was excited to hear the news. He has two Detroit Public Schools high school sons — one a junior and the other a freshmen.
“I’m not sure how we could afford college for both of them,” the 43-year-old factory worker from Detroit, said. “This will get them something they can use to get a good job. Maybe they can even go on and get a (four-year) degree.”
Martha Williams, 54, has five grandchildren in Detroit Public Schools and two in charter schools. She’s thrilled with the plan.
“My kids aren’t able to pay for even community college,” she said. “This will help. I like that they can choose between different places to go.”
To be eligible, students must live in Detroit and have spent their junior and senior years at a high school in the city. The graduates can then go to one of five community colleges in metro Detroit: Henry Ford Community College, Wayne County Community College District, Schoolcraft College, Macomb Community College and Oakland Community College.
Baruah spoke about the economic impact the program will have, both in terms of providing a lift for Detroit students who might not otherwise have been able to afford college, and how it could encourage more people to move back in to the city knowing that living in Detroit comes with two free years of college for the city’s high school grads.
To compete in the economy, “everyone, and I mean everyone, is going to need either a four-year bachelor’s degree, a two-year associate’s degree or a certificate in a highly skilled area,” Baruah said. “That’s what it’s going to take to compete and win in a hyper-competitive global economy.”
Affordabiility, Baruah said, will not longer be a reason that students in Detroit don’t go to college.
Ashley Francis, 19, a graduate of Detroit’s Western International High School, said the scholarship she has received from the Detroit Scholarship Fund has been instrumental in her quest to study diagnostic medical stenography. She’s now in her second year studying at Oakland Community College and plans to attend Grand Valley State University in the fall. She said she appreciates not having to worry about college costs that aren’t covered by grants, or graduating with crushing student loan debts.
“I’m trying to avoid that,” she said. “It has been a great experience for me.”
Alante Thomas, 18, a senior at Cass Technical High School, said he’s excited to be able to get the basic college courses out of the way at a community college for much less than it would cost at a university.
Thomas says he plans to study musical performance and minor in criminal justice as a backup career plan. He sings opera with the Detroit Public Schools and hopes for a career performing.
The chance at free community college is “a big difference, because just to be honest my parents don’t have the funds to send me through a four-year college by themselves,” Thomas said, “so why not take the opportunity of getting free college for two years?”
Staff writer David Jesse contributed to this report. Contact Matt Helms: email@example.com or on Twitter: @matthelms.
HOW IT WORKS
* To be eligible for the Detroit Promise’s two years of tuition-free community college, students must live in Detroit and attend a high school inside the city — public, charter or private.
* There is no grade point average requirement, but students must be accepted at Wayne County Community College District, Henry Ford Community College, Schoolcraft College, Oakland Community College or Macomb Community College.
* Students must live in Detroit and have spent their junior and senior years at a high school in the city.
* The scholarship covers what grants and other financial aid doesn’t.Students in the program must maintain the satisfactory academic progress required by the schools and Pell grants.
* Students may apply for the program at www.DetroitScholarshipFund.com. Students must register and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid by June 30.
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