Detroit colleges team up for first-of-its-kind debt-forgiveness program

Relief for returning college students with student debt is on the way.

With nearly 700,000 people across the region with college credits but no college degree, the Detroit Regional Chamber is teaming up with three Detroit area colleges to ease the burden on those hoping to finally graduate.

"Many students have kids, they had to work other jobs, they have financial burdens," said Caroline Altman Smith, the deputy director of education at the Kresge Foundation, "and so there are many more things that regional institutions could be doing to help students overcome those barriers."

The debt forgiveness program is a first-of-its-kind. Working in conjunction with Wayne State University, Henry Ford College and Oakland University, the chamber announced the program on Tuesday.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for all of us," said Smith.

The goal of the program is to raise the post-secondary credentials of area residents from 44 to 60 percent by 2030. 

Henry Ford is forgiving half of students total outstanding debt. Wayne State and Oakland University are forgiving up to $1,500 in debt. 

"We have agreed to help you reduce that debt so you can apply or get into, or come back to any of the three of us," said Russ Kavalhuna, president of Henry Ford College.

The program is already making progress too. The roots of it started with the 10 students that were a part of the WSU Warrior Way Back debt-forgiveness initiative last year. Now, its president said the program has 96 students, having already graduated nine.

"It's been very very popular so I think that once it's up to scale, it could be thousands, maybe tens of thousands of students (that) could benefit," said M. Roy Wilson.

Wilson also said 26 more are expected to graduate later this summer.

Matching that program are soon-to-be implemented plans at Henry Ford and Oakland University. OU's Golden Grizzly Graduate program helps former and current students with debt, and those without it, who just want to go back to school.

"We think of it as low-lying fruit, these are students in some cases missing just one credit hour," said Ora Pescivitz, president of Oakland University.

All three schools have agreed not to put a cap on the number of students who can participate. 

"If you're looking for a way back into higher education, contact us." Kavalhuna said. "We're working together because we think that you'll be better off by coming back."

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