Letter: Detroit promises a pathway to success

Re: Kathy Hoekstra’s April 6 column “Detroit’s ‘free tuition’ game”: Kathy Hoekstra raises some important points, but either misstates or misunderstands some core elements of the Detroit Promise program administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber and funded by the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation with future support from the Detroit Promise Zone Authority.

First, contrary to the impression conveyed by Hoekstra, the chamber’s scholarship program is not specifically directed to students in the Detroit Public Schools district. As over half of all Detroit students and parents have voted with their feet and selected education providers other than DPS, the chamber’s scholarship program is aimed at all students in Detroit who attend any school — public, private, charter or religious.

Second, the chamber agrees that college affordability is a key issue that requires state and national attention. However, Hoekstra is conflating the issue of the rising cost of four-year university tuition with the community college program the chamber is administering. Community colleges across this nation continue to be a tremendous education value and have seen only moderate tuition increases.

Third, the chamber and the business leaders we represent fully agree that traditional college is not the only path for individual success, which is why we have been promoting everything from skilled trades to technical careers to our students.

Fourth, Hoekstra appears to believe that this scholarship program “can set students up for failure in a college setting if they are not college-ready.” We fully realize the importance not just of getting students into college, but helping them complete it as well, and providing scholarships does not waive college admission standards — even for community college. We have been working diligently with our community college and funding partners to provide additional effective supports to increase our retention and graduation rates.

Promise programs in Kalamazoo and other communities have demonstrated measurable benefits in the form of increased education attainment for residents and broader economic benefits to the rest of the community. The chamber and Hoekstra are on the same side of several issues, including support for school choice and a disdain for “wilderness yoga.” But when it comes to providing an option for children in a challenged environment to create a pathway to success, Hoekstra misunderstands the Detroit Promise Program.

Greg Handel

Vice President of Education and Talent

Detroit Regional Chamber