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New program gives all Detroit high school graduates two years of free college


Another step has been taken to ensure every kid who goes to school in Detroit has a decent future. Any student who graduates from a high school in Detroit, whether public, private or charter, will have a chance at a tuition-free, two-year college degree thanks to the new Detroit Promise Zone.

Only students who went to both junior and senior high in the city of Detroit can take advantage of the scholarship. The money can also only be used at five community colleges in metro-Detroit . They are Henry Ford Community College, Wayne County Community College District, Schoolcraft College, Macomb Community College and Oakland Community College.

Mayor Mike Duggan

Mayor Mike Duggan

While only recently announced as a reality, last fall Mayor Mike Duggan and the City of Detroit made the decision to set aside a portion of tax dollars and form the Detroit Promise Zone.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a high school senior preparing for college now or a second-grader whose college career is years away,” says Mayor Duggan. “The Detroit Promise will be there to help make a college education a reality. My hope is that this promise is just the beginning and that we’ll be able to raise enough money to promise every Detroit high school student four years of tuition-free education at our public universities.”

This program will not only allow many young Detroiters to get an associate’s degree to further their skill set, but to do so free from debt.

The Promise Zone legislation requires a private organization to fund two years of scholarships before any taxes can be captured. The Detroit Regional Chamber and the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation (MEEF) stepped and created the Detroit Scholarship Fund in 2013. In its three years of existence, 2,000 high school graduates have received two-years of community college education without going into their own pockets or entering the post college world chained by financial obligation.

The MEEF and the Detroit Regional Chamber will continue to fund the scholarships for the next three years until the Detroit Promise Zone tax capture is permitted in 2018.

Sandy Baurah

Sandy Baruah

“We now have three years of helping hundreds of Detroit students go to college through the Detroit Scholarship Fund,” says Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “We welcome the Detroit Promise as a powerful example of collaboration and what we can achieve when we work together, and also as a permanent, dedicated funding source – a guarantee that kids will be able to go to college, no matter their family’s economic status.

“Increasing educational attainment in our largest city is critical to the region’s competitiveness and growth.”

The money is not given out freely, though. To take advantage of the program students must apply for Pell grants, and then the scholarship will pay the difference for the first two years.  The city can use a portion of the State Education Tax (SET) after that.

The question may come up, “what good can an associate’s degree really provide for these kids?” Despite the trend toward steering students towards universities, a two-year degree provides many stable,well-paying jobs. According to the website Create A Career, they include:

  • Air traffic controller — $62,000
  • Avionics technician — $53,000
  • Broadcast technician — $36,710
  • CAD technician — $41,000
  • Civil drafter — $45,000
  • Computer forensics specialist — $68,000
  • Computer maintenance technician — $45,000
  • Dental hygienist — $61,000
  • Electrical engineering technicians — $56,000
  • Neurodiagnostic technologist — $51,000
  • Pastry chef — $35,000
  • and many more

These jobs and many others available with an associate’s degree can give these young Detroiters a good and solid work life. It also give those who want to go on for a four-year degree a financial leg up.

The Detroit Promise Zone Authority Board is made up of Chairwoman Penny Bailer, former executive director of City Year Detroit; Vice Chairwoman Iris Taylor, retired CEO of Detroit Receiving Hospital; Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation; Floyd Allen, principal of the Allen Law Group; Charlie Beckham, group executive of neighborhoods for the City of Detroit; John May partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers; Hector Hernandez, executive director of economic solutions for Southwest Solutions; and Wanda Redmond, Detroit Board of Education member.

Penny Bailer

Penny Bailer

“A family’s financial situation is no longer a roadblock to our city’s young people getting the education that they need in order to live productive lives and lead successful careers,” Bailer says. “We are confident Detroit’s future will be even brighter now that our city’s future leaders will be able to go to college at no cost.”

Current high school seniors and parents who would like more information about the Detroit Scholarship Fund opportunities should go to Click here to see the infographic.

You must register for the DSF and submit the free application for federal student aid by June 30.

– Lead photo: Henry Ford Community College by Dwight Burdette

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