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A Path from Access to Success

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A Path from Access to Success

Interim Findings from the Detroit Promise Path Evaluation 04/2019 | Alyssa Ratledge, Rebekah O’Donoghue, Dan Cullinan, Jasmina Camo-Biogradlija

Postsecondary education is widely seen as a necessity in the modern economy, yet among low- and middle-income families, college enrollment rates are dismayingly low — and graduation rates are even lower. College Promise programs, which cover local students’ college tuition and fees, are one strategy states and municipalities use to help. College Promise programs aim to put college in students’ reach financially and to institute a college-going culture for all K-12 students. But traditionally, these programs look only to expand college access, not to address college success.

Detroit’s Promise program was designed to encourage college attendance among some of the nation’s most underserved students, those in Detroit, Michigan. The next step was to help students succeed once they enrolled in college. To do so, MDRC and the Detroit Promise partnered to create the Detroit Promise Path, an evidence-based student services program. Detroit Promise Path students begin meeting with college coaches in the late summer before their first semester of college. They are given an incentive to attend coaching meetings in the form of a monthly gift card refilled with $50 each month that they meet with coaches as directed. The program lasts all year, including summer semesters, when students are encouraged to enroll in summer classes or engage in a local summer jobs program. The entire operation is supported by a management information system.

This report presents findings from MDRC’s randomized controlled trial evaluation of the Detroit Promise Path. About two-thirds of eligible students were randomly assigned to be offered the new program, while the rest were assigned to a control group who receives the Promise scholarship alone, and thus does not meet with coaches or receive incentives. Comparing the two groups’ outcomes over time provides a reliable estimate of the effects of the Detroit Promise Path. The findings in this report include the following:

  • The program has a positive effect on students’ persistence in school, full-time enrollment, and credit accumulation. The effects on persistence and full-time enrollment in the second semester are statistically significant and among the largest MDRC has found in postsecondary experiments. They are especially notable because less than two-thirds of the study sample enrolled during the first semester.
  • Although it is too early to reach a conclusion about effects in the second year of the study, the early findings are encouraging. Data on second-year outcomes are only available for the first group of enrollees, who have been followed for two years. Findings in the second year are positive, but not all are statistically significant and the effect on credits earned is smaller.
  • Participation rates were high among enrolled students, and students reported positive experiences in the program, especially in their relationships with their coaches. The vast majority of program group students engaged with the program, and the average number of coaching meetings remained high throughout the two program years. In focus groups and a student survey, nearly all students reported valuing the program.

A future report will examine the program’s effect on graduation rates. It is clear, though, that Detroit Promise Path is having a positive effect on students in the first two years. This evaluation shows that building student support services into Promise scholarships can have a meaningful effect on students’ academic progress.

Promise programs do better with support services

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Promise programs do better with support services

By Ellie Ashford April 24, 2019    Print

Promise programs are more effective when community college students are given targeted support services, according to two new studies by MDRC.

One study evaluated the Detroit Promise Path program, which provides extra support to students participating in the Detroit Promise, and the other one reviewed results from the MDRC’s College Promise Success Initiative.

The Detroit Promise, one of more than 300 promise programs nationwide, was launched by the Detroit Regional Chamber in 2013 to provide college scholarships to high school graduates for up to three years. It’s a last-dollar scholarship, meaning it covers the difference between a student’s financial aid award and the cost of tuition.

While the program resulted in an increase in students who enrolled in college, there was a concern that large numbers of Detroit Promise recipients were dropping out before their second year. To improve college retention, the chamber partnered with MDRC to create the Detroit Promise Path, which adds student services and benefits to the program, including:

  • campus coaching and a requirement that students meet with a coach twice a month
  • $50 a month to cover extra expenses, such as bus passes or books, for students who meet with coaches
  • encouragement for students to enroll in summer courses
  • a management information system to track student participation

Encouraging results

The MDRC study compared two randomly selected groups: students who participated in the Detroit Promise Path and students who received Detroit Promise scholarships but didn’t receive the extra supports in the Path program.

The study covered students who attended five Detroit-area community colleges: Henry Ford, Macomb, Oakland, Schoolcraft and Wayne County Community College District.

Early results from that study suggest that “well-designed, well-implemented student support services in College Promise programs can enhance students’ experience, improve their semester-to-semester persistence in college and potentially increase the percentage of them who graduate,” MDRC found. For example, the program’s estimated impact on full-time enrollment for the full study sample increases from about 6 percentage points in the first semester to about 10 percentage points in the second semester.

This shows “there is a sizable group of students who currently enroll part-time but would enroll full-time with direction and support,” the report states.

In another example, students in the Detroit Promise Path earned an average 1.7 more credits than students in the control group, a 25 percent increase that is statistically significant.

Student engagement

In 2018, MDRC launched the College Promise Success Initiative to expand its efforts to help Promise programs in five other locations – Flint, Michigan; Richmond, California; Los Angeles; Portland, Oregon; and Rhode Island – design and implement student support efforts. Those efforts include coaching and advising students and plans for targeted communications with students.

One of the lessons learned from those programs is that Promise initiatives should be mapped out from start to finish – articulating the “messy middle” as well as the end goal – and should clearly spell out what kinds of information students should receive and how they should receive it.

MDRC is working with the Richmond Promise Program, for example, to create visual tools that clearly outline program components and the desired long-term and short-term outcomes related to each component, the report states.

MDRC advises Promise Program designers to carefully plan how to support consistent implementation of the model. Messages to students should be “personalized, encouraging and succinct.”

Leveraging resources

Because funds are often limited, the report urges program administrators to carefully consider where to deploy scarce resources. As an example, MDRC notes that the Oregon Promise team at Portland Community College only has one advisor, who is responsible for supporting more than 2,000 students. That advisor handles the large caseload by sending automated text messages and a newsletter with embedded videos that share information about financial aid and how to navigate college.

In another lesson from the report, “programs that build in the collection and use of data from the beginning can be in a better position to assess their progress and adjust their approaches as necessary.”

Success coaches with the Promise Program at the Community College of Rhode Island use academic data to intervene when students are at risk. For example, first-year students not on track to earn 30 credits by the end of the spring semester receive messages encouraging them to take courses in the summer.

Finally, because the perspectives of students are important, MDRC gained useful information through focus groups. Students in one focus group said they were worried about losing the motivation to return to school after winter break. As a result, the Promise staff developed engagement strategies, such as inviting students to social events during winter break, scheduling in-person check-in meetings and sending motivational text messages.

Alma College to Join Detroit Promise Program

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Alma College to Join Detroit Promise Program

Posted on September 18, 2018

by Monica Levitan

Alma College has announced it will partner with the Detroit Promise program, an initiative which provides full-tuition scholarships to qualified Detroit students graduating from any high school in the City of Detroit.
This partnership marks the 19th four-year institution and 25th post-secondary partner to join the Detroit Promise.
“Alma has a history of supporting students from the Detroit area, such as with our Detroit Future Scholarship program, which has improved access to Alma College for many students from Detroit,” said Alma College president Dr. Jeff Abernathy. “Partnering with Detroit Promise further strengthens our commitment to those students.”

Scholarship recipients under the Detroit Promise will be given state and federal financial aid and have the opportunity to pursue an associate degree, technical certificate or bachelor’s degree at participating community colleges and four-year colleges and universities, The Morning Sun reported.

Detroit students must have the following qualifications in order to apply: earn at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA as of Feb. 15 of their senior year, attend a high school in Detroit for four years and graduate and receive at least a 21 on the ACT or at least 1060 on the SAT.

The College is allowed to award however many scholarships to eligible Detroit students as it sees fit, as a result of being an unlimited partner.

Detroit Promise Connects More than 600 Students with Tuition- Free College for 2018 School Year

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Detroit Promise Provides More Than 600 Students with Tuition-Free College for 2018 School Year
Posted on August 30, 2018

By: Michael Lewis II
“Would I have attended college if I didn’t have the Detroit Promise? Probably not.”
Those were the words of Eastern Michigan University sophomore Raynisha Pannell during the program’s fifth annual Summer Social event held at Focus: HOPE last week. Pannell is one of more than 600 new students who will participate in the Detroit Promise this year.
Since the Detroit Regional Chamber began administering the program in 2013, more than 2,700 students have attended a two-year or four-year college or university tuition-free.
“The Detroit Promise isn’t like other scholarships,” Pannell said. “Other scholarships don’t have someone to work with you to make sure everything is right or provide networking events. That’s what I appreciate the most.”
The Detroit Promise team has made it a mission to provide more than just last-dollar financial assistance.
“The idea behind the Summer Social is to be able to meet with all of the students at one time and review all of the things they need to know to successfully enter college,” said Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent for the Chamber. “It’s also a chance for students to connect with people from the schools they’re going to, both the higher education partners and students.”
This enhanced summer engagement is part of a multipronged strategy known as the Detroit Promise Path. The strategy was developed in collaboration with the national MDRC education research organization and is designed to increase students’ academic outcomes. Other components include campus coaches who help students navigate academic and personal issues; monthly financial support contingent on meeting with coaches; and student monitoring throughout the year.
Jewel Wilson joined the Detroit Promise team as a full-time campus coach in June and said her experience as an intern inspired her to work with the Chamber.
“Now that I have the role of a campus coach, I talk to the students in depth every day and you quickly learn about all of the little reasons college would otherwise not be possible. That is why we go beyond just giving out scholarships; we want to help fix students’ problems if we can,” she said. “After working with the students, I saw the importance of the Detroit Promise.”
Handel echoed Wilson’s sentiment.
“Making sure tuition and fees are paid is only the beginning for most kids, especially those who are first generation college-bound,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure every student is connected with a success coach to help them with anything they need administratively.”
As a first-generation student, Pannell recognizes just how important that work is for many Detroiters.
“The biggest gap between other resources like the Promise is the connection to the student,” she said. “Being able to talk to them and break down exactly what’s going on is important, because most of us simply don’t know what we don’t know. That is not something anyone else has given me.”

Michael Lewis II is the Digital Marketing Coordinator for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Gives Promise to Detroit Youth

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The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) will provide $3.5 million over the next three years to help ensure that Detroit youth have the opportunity to pursue a college education and prepare for 21st century careers. This grant gives a significant boost to the $30 million campaign led by the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation (MEEF).

WKKF announcement

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, introduces Kellogg Foundation Vice President Joe Scantlebury with Governor Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit Promise Path college coach Ashley Robinson, and Oakland Community College student Johnathan Land.

A coalition that included Governor Rick Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan gathered to recognize the leadership of the WWKF in funding Detroit Promise, a program that provides tuition and services to thousands of Detroit high school graduates as they pursue a college education.

These funds will help shepherd the program through a critical time of transition and development when the 2-year and 4-year scholarship program seeks to meet anticipated growth in demand and become over time self sustaining. It also will support efforts to enhance retention rates through, Detroit Promise Path, a college coaching effort focused on community college freshmen.

Detroit Promise has helped more than 2,200 students attend college since it was first developed under the leadership of Governor Rick Snyder and administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation.

Support from WKKF will ensure that the scholarship and supportive programs are fully developed and available to Detroit youth as public funding becomes available during the next couple of years under the Detroit Promise Zone, a tax capture program initiated by Mayor Mike Duggan.

Please contact MEEF if you are interested in donating to this effort.

Students have until June 30 to apply for the promise for the fall 2017 semester.  Students can apply at

See the following coverage:

$3.5M grant to fund Detroit Promise college scholarships, Detroit Free Press, May 1, 2017

Kellogg donates $3.5M to Detroit Promise college grant, The Detroit News, May 1, 2017

Multi-million dollar grant to support “Detroit Promise”, Dave Lewallen, Action 7 News, May 1, 2017.

Kellogg Foundation donates $3.5 million to Detroit Promise scholarship program, Crain’s Detroit Business, May 1, 2017‎

Foundation giving $3.5 million to scholarship program, Associated Press, May 1, 2017 and reprinted in: U.S. News and World Report,, and WWMT.

May 2, 2017


Detroit Promise Expansion Featured in News

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Governor Snyder, Mayor Duggan and others recently shared the accomplishments of the Detroit Promise with broad coverage by the Michigan media, see links below.

Detroit is the largest U.S. city to provide all of its students a chance to earn a college degree tuition-free. More than 700 students 2016 high school graduates are taking advantage of the program this year, and since 2013 over 2,000 students have attended one of five participating community colleges.

This year, the program is piloting two programs. One provides students who have attended Detroit schools for their entire education a chance to attend a Michigan public university including University of Michigan, Michigan State University and a number of others for four years tuition free.

Detroit Promise is also providing more than 250 community college attendees with a new coaching and wrap around support program this year to support their continuation with post-secondary education. Similar model programs have demonstrated positive results in both student retention and graduation in other regions of the United States.

MEEF seeks to raise $25 million to continue these two new programs and support the Detroit Promise through its successful launch as required under the Promise Zone legislation. Give today online at:

See the following coverage:

Free tuition for Detroiters to add 4-year universities, Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press, November 29, 2016

Students benefit from Detroit Promise program, Christine Ferretti, Detroit News, November 29, 2016

Detroit Promise program expands to include 4 years of free college for students, Ingrid Kelly, Fox 2 Detroit, November 29, 2016

“Detroit Promise” Program Expands to Include 4-Year Universities, Bre’Anna Tinsley on “All Things Considered,” WDET, November 28, 2016

Tuition-free, four year college now available to Detroit high school students, Staff reporters, Daily Detroit, November 28, 2016

Governor and Mayor announce pilot to expand Detroit Promise college scholarship program to four-year colleges & universities, A.J. Williams, Michigan Chronicle Online, November 28, 2016

Detroit students can earn 4-year bachelor’s degree tuition-free, Dave Bartkowiak Jr., WDIV Detroit, November 28, 2016

Gov. Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan launch the registration period for 2017 Detroit Promise, Curtis Jackson, Taking Action News, WXYZ, November 28, 2016 ‎

Mayor to launch Detroit Promise registration for tuition-free community college, Dana Alana, MLive Detroit, ‎November 29, 2016‎

Over 830 Detroit youth attend college tuition free

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shutterstock_172074791The Detroit News featured the MEEF supported Detroit Promise program in a recent article noting that 833 Detroit high school graduates received scholarships for a tuition free path to college. The article explored two important new initiatives for the 2016-2017 school year:

(1) Four-year tuition free paths for 293 Detroit high school graduates

For the first time. Detroit Promise will support students at University of Michigan, Michigan State University  and a number of other public Michigan universities enrolled in four year degree programs. This pilot program will continue next year as well.

(2) Coaching and Support for 250+ community college attendees

This year, Detroit Promise Path will offer additional coaching and supports to roughly half of the 540 scholarship recipients attending two-year programs at participating community colleges. More than 250 community college students will be enrolled in the program to see if these supportive efforts will improve their chances of graduating. Similar model programs have demonstrated positive results in both student retention and graduation in other regions of the United States.

If successful, MEEF will work to expand both of these initiatives to benefit Detroit high school graduates in the future under the Detroit Promise program.

See “Program gives Detroit students path to 4-year colleges,” by Kim Kozlowski, The Detroit News, September 25, 2016.

For more information and to apply to Detroit Promise, visit

Detroit Promise Welcomes 715 Scholarship Students

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Over a hundred college bound students were welcomed on August 11 in a celebration as they prepare to attend college with support from the Detroit Promise scholarship, a key program supported by MEEF. The program, administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber, guarantees a tuition-free path to a participating college or university to qualifying Detroit high school graduates.

This year, over 700 Detroit graduates will attend tuition free: 200 are registered to attend a four year Michigan University and another 515 plan to attend one of five participating colleges in Southeast Michigan.

“It’s a wonderful achievement to be a Detroit Promise scholar. The program will alleviate the financial pressure of paying for college and allow me to concentrate on my school work,” said Brandy Beckwell, a graduate of Renaissance High School who plans to study public relations at Michigan State University. “I hope to take the support the Detroit Promise has given me, not only financially but emotionally, and to give back to the community and city that I love,” she said.

Following the presentations, students met with representatives from Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, Oakland University, University of Michigan, UM-Dearborn, University of Detroit Mercy, and Western Michigan University to learn about student success programs that will support their transition to college. These programs are an important part of helping Detroit youth stay in school and complete their degree. MEEF provides support for the college success programs at participating community colleges, while the Universities provide their own programs.

See coverage by the Detroit Regional Chamber for more details.

MEEF Supported Detroit Promise, An Impactful Program

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meef-logo-finalAccording to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the MEEF supported program is one of the top ways the city is helping its youth secure a better future:

“There is no greater gateway to success than education. Perhaps the most impactful program we have initiated is the Detroit Promise, which provides two years of tuition-free college for graduates of any Detroit high school — whether private, public, or charter.”

He wrote these words in a June 2016 article for CNN Money Magazine. Read the whole article “How Detroit plans to help the city’s black youth succeed” online at