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Detroit Chamber helps students succeed

In a recent column (“Before free college, fix the schools,” Feb. 14) Ingrid Jacques examined the governor’s proposal for the creation of a statewide, tuition-free community college program citing examples from the Detroit Promise. As the administrator of the program, the Detroit Regional Chamber understands that providing access to tuition-free college is only one part of a broader strategy to ensure that individuals have a pathway to a successful career and employers have access to the talent they need.

Jacques rightly raises the issue that there is relatively low completion among community college students. This is a national issue, not just a Michigan issue. Completion rates are a significant challenge for many reasons, including academic challenges and job opportunities in a low unemployment environment.

In 2016, the Detroit Promise adopted a more comprehensive approach and implemented a best practice model that increases student retention from their first year to their second year. This model, known as “intensive coaching” helps students overcome barriers to education from the minute they get on campus.

This program places coaches on community college campuses to provide ongoing support, encouragement, and connections to more intensive resources. This is particularly beneficial to students who are the first in their family to go to college.

To increase the number of students enrolling in college and participating in the Detroit Promise, the chamber also added access to a four-year university track. With both additions, the total current enrollment has grown to more than 1,400 students. While there is still room for growth, those students would be less likely to continue their education.

In our region in particular, there is tremendous need – and opportunity – in the skilled trades. Acknowledging this, Mayor Mike Duggan, the chamber’s partner in the Detroit Promise and its chief champion, announced at his State of the City address a new partnership for the Detroit Promise with select community colleges to cover shorter-term skilled certification tracks. Depending on the track chosen, students could join the workforce following as little as six to 12 months of coursework.

Through a partnership with the mayor’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent (GDYT), scholarship students are provided opportunities to work in summer career pathway internships to build career readiness skills in various fields, from accounting to junior police or fire cadets.

While we need to be aware of the challenges with scaling up tuition-free community college, those concerns must be balanced with the need to drastically increase Michigan’s level of postsecondary attainment.

The chamber is proud of the holistic methods we are taking to increase pathways to college and careers, and we know that others around the country, such as Tennessee, are finding success as well.

Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent initiatives

Detroit Regional Chamber

School goes better with breakfast

Teachers, tutors, resource centers and even homework are all geared to helping students learn. One thing that often goes missing, however, is more basic than any piece of curriculum – breakfast.

Studies have repeatedly shown that a student who goes to school hungry is at an immediate disadvantage because it is difficult for him or her to concentrate and learn when their basic needs are not being met.

Oakland County is Better with Breakfast is a groundbreaking public/non-profit collaboration between the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, Oakland Schools and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan with the goal of expanding free breakfast to students in eligible schools across Oakland County. Our model for addressing the underutilization of federal school breakfast funding is unique to both the state and the country.

The Better with Breakfast program was developed to improve academic outcomes by starting with something as simple, yet fundamental, as breakfast. Did you know only 43 percent of Oakland County students who receive a free or reduced lunch are also accessing breakfast? That means as many as 7,300 students in Oakland County alone struggle with hunger.

Oakland Schools is proud to partner with Oakland County leadership and United Way for Southeastern Michigan, to promote and support this important initiative.

School breakfast fights hunger, improves nutrition, and empowers children to learn.

By providing students with easier access to breakfast, we are eliminating a huge barrier to student achievement.

Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson, superintendent

Oakland Schools

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