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Detroit — As he prepared to graduate from Cass Technical High School last school year, Malik Stroughter wasn’t sure college was in the cards.

But the 18-year-old found opportunity in the Detroit Promise, a scholarship program that’s providing free two and four-year degrees to qualifying Detroit high school graduates who attend school and live in the city.

“I had no clue how I was going to get to college. I had no money saved up,” said Stroughter, who is now majoring in business at Macomb Community College and hopes to transition to Wayne State University. “Once I finally got the promise, it was really a weight off my shoulders. I could go to sleep easy at night.”

Stroughter shared his story Monday during a news conference at Detroit’s Communication & Media Arts High School alongside Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan, educators and Detroit Regional Chamber officials.

Officials touted expansion of the Detroit Promise and a recently launched pilot program that’s allowing any Detroit high school student who graduates with a 3.0 grade point average or better, and scores more than 21 on the ACT or 1,060 on SAT, the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree tuition-free.

In the current academic year, more than 700 are receiving the two-year or four-year, “last-dollar” scholarships, which cover tuition and other mandatory fees not covered by federal or state grant sources.

Registration is currently open for Detroit high school seniors slated to graduate in 2017. The final date to register for universities is Feb. 1 and June 30 for community colleges, officials said.

The four-year pilot program began with its first group of students this fall. A second group will take part next fall. The effort is paid for with funds raised by the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation, which has launched a campaign in hopes of raising $25 million over the next seven years.

Duggan said 584 students, including Stroughter, received one of the two-year scholarships this fall.

“People who weren’t sure what they were going to do with their lives. That’s how important this is,” Duggan said. “With the governor and the rest of the contribution now, you’re going to have young people choose four years.”

Snyder on Monday said the city’s comeback has been exceptional in recent years. He’s hopeful the scholarships will keep families in the city and grow its workforce.

“It’s important we give opportunities to the people of Detroit, our young people,” he said. “This is a journey. This is not an end point today. We’ve got to continue this work.”

Detroit Promise is a partnership between the Detroit Promise Zone Authority and the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation and is administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

In 2011, Snyder announced his intention to provide Detroit high school graduates with a tuition-free path to an associate degree or technical certificate. The Detroit Regional Chamber has administered Detroit Promise since 2013.

In March, Duggan launched the Detroit Promise Zone Authority to permanently dedicate a portion of tax dollars generated by that entity to funding two-year scholarships for all future Detroit high school graduates.

Detroit high school graduates can attend one of five community colleges — Henry Ford, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb or Schoolcraft College — to obtain a two-year degree. The scholarship covers tuition and fees for up to three years, or the time required to earn an associate degree, whichever is less.

It’s been life-changing for Portia Anderson, 18, who is now a freshman at the University of Michigan in Dearborn, pursuing a major in computer science and a minor in biology.

“This helped push away any boundaries I may have had in paying for my education,” said Anderson, who struggled to qualify for funding assistance elsewhere.

Students can visit the Detroit Regional Chamber website for information on eligibility and to register.

CFerretti@detroitnews.com

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