A $17-million program that provides free college and vocational training to Detroit high school graduates has seen few students earn credentials within three years, while efforts to improve the situation have made little difference, a new study finds.
Since 2013, the Detroit Promise has sent more than 4,200 students to college free of charge, its website says. But the study, reported by The Detroit News, shows less than 10 percent of 1,000 students surveyed received a vocational credential or associate's degree within three years. The numbers were even worse for the program's community college enrollees, just 7.2 percent of whom received an associate's in that time.
Though a program funder championed the fact that 36 percent of students were still enrolled at the three-year mark, the study does not appear to show the program's credential-receipt rate overall. In 2017, the Detroit Regional Chamber, which administers the program, put the rate of students who had obtained an associate's degree from a community college in the first four years of the program at 20 percent.
Since then, the chamber has sought to address potential underlying issues by assigning students a coach and providing them a $50 monthly stipend and other supports. But the help has yielded only a slight improvement, The News reports, with just 7.2 percent of students receiving help earning a certificate or degree within three years, versus 6.8 percent of those receiving only tuition.
The study's takeaway is that even more supports are likely needed.
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.
"Although the program was providing them with additional resources, for some students, it wasn't enough to allow them to fully focus on being a student and really have to continue to deal with those life challenges."
Talks about securing additional funding to help cover the cost of books or transporation are ongoing, The News reported.