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College student finds Detroit Promise Path key to reaching goals

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As a child, Preston Welborne El had never imagined going to college, but meeting a Detroit Promise Path coach piqued his interest in higher education.

The 22-year-old, a graduate of Oakland Community College, who attends the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, was among eight panelists who discussed the Detroit Promise Path program during a Detroit News webinar on Thursday night.

The event included a special guest appearance by Detroit rapper Gmac Cash, who performed a rap song about the importance of going to college.

A special report by Detroit News Staff Writer Kim Kozlowski last week examined the successes and shortcomings of the program, which offers free community college tuition, a coach, and a scholarship to help Detroit high school seniors cross the finish line.

“Without this support, I don’t know if I would have made it to this point,” said Welborne El, who drove three different buses from his home in Detroit to Farmington Hills for six hours to take college classes.

Kozlowski’s report, endorsed by the Education Writers Association, coincided with the publication of a study that found that 829 students enrolled on the Detroit Promise Path in 2016 and 2017 did not get significantly more degrees in three years than 439 Students who only received free tuition received the Detroit Promise. Detroit Promise began in 2013 and grants Detroit students a scholarship to two-year community colleges. What followed was a promise for students to attend four-year universities for free.

The randomized controlled trial compared the progress of students who received the coaching and scholarship provided by the Promise Path with that of students who received a scholarship alone.

Detroit News columnist Bankole Thompson hosted the event

The discussion was moderated by Detroit News columnist Bankole Thompson.

Colleen Sommo, lead researcher on the study for the New York-based Education and Social Policy Research Group, MDRC, said while the program did not move the needle on graduation, Detroit Promise Path students stayed at community college longer and completed more classes.

“Compared to the scholarship group, there were many more Detroit Promise Path students enrolled for five or six semesters, and after six semesters the Detroit Promise Path group was up an average of four college credits,” said Sommo.

“So there has been a significant impact on progress, but after three years we don’t see any signs of an increase in degrees,” she noted. “For some students, the promise may not have been enough to overcome some of the obstacles.”

Panelist Mark Yancy, a trainer on the Detroit Promise Path at Henry Ford College, said that since about 80% of participants are the first in their families to attend college, many fear college and have preconceived notions of expectations.

“At the beginning of the semester, we try to fill these fears with water,” said Yancy.

Other panellists included Greg Handel, Vice President of Education and Talent for the Detroit Regional Chamber; Martha Kanter, former US Under-Secretary of State for Education and now CEO of College Promise; Peter Remington, President and CEO of the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation; and Kozlowski.

Remington from the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation,The program seeks to remove obstacles such as the lack of transportation to get to class.

At one point the answer was as simple as asking for a bus stop closer to college, he said.

“We knew from day one that our goal was to meet students where they are, not where they want,” said Remington. “You have to set expectations based on realities.

“We knew this was a marathon and not a race,” he said. “We’ll be there for the long term.”

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Dusty Kennedy