MDRC in the News

Detroit’s College Aid Program Falls Short, but Hopes Remain

The Detroit News


After graduating from Communication and Media Arts High School, Johnathan Land realized he had an opportunity that could change his life.

Not only would he receive free tuition for a two-year degree at Oakland Community College, but the Detroit Promise Path program would pay him a $50 monthly stipend and provide a coach to guide him toward graduation as part of a new plan available to the city’s students…..

…..The first detailed report on the success of the program, to be released Thursday, shows that Land’s story is more the norm than the exception. Only 7.2% of the students in the Promise Path earned certificates or a degree within three years, compared to 6.8% of those who received tuition alone. Fewer than 100 of the more than 1,000 students in the report’s study earned a degree or certificate within three years…..

…..For most recipients, the biggest impediment continues to be economic, said a researcher who worked on the study. That often reduces a student’s opportunity to take classes full-time.

“Financial need was at the top of their list,” said Colleen Sommo, principal investigator of the study conducted by New York-based education and social policy research group MDRC, which designed the program with the Detroit Regional Chamber. “It presented itself in different ways from lacking reliable transportation to having to focus on paying their rent and the need to work more…..

…..The results of the latest study suggest the program enhancements were not robust enough to turn the tide of college dropouts.

Some students couldn’t graduate in three years because they attended part-time rather than full-time because they needed to work, and many were not prepared by their high schools and had to take remedial courses that set back the time it would take to graduate, said Sommo, an MDRC senior associate for postsecondary education…..

…..The study included 829 students enrolled in the Detroit Promise Path and 439 students in the Detroit Promise during 2016 and 2017. The MDRC study concluded that the Detroit Promise Path did improve student retention, rates of full-time enrollment and credit accumulation…..

…..Numerous factors drive graduation rates lower, said Alyssa Ratledge, a research associate with MDRC. Students of color, those who come from low-income families or are the first in their families to go to college are less likely to graduate.

“That hits a lot of boxes with Detroit’s population,” Ratledge said. “This is a predominately Black population, many are first-generation students, there are a lot of low-income students who are working. All of those things are issues that overall reduce students’ likelihood of graduation and also increase their time to degree, meaning it’s going to take them longer to get their degree if they do get it…..”

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