Detroit Promise still helping students go to college for free during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the education system upsidedown, forcing students to learn in ways like never before. 

But Detroit Promise remains in place, getting Detroiters into college. But they've had to make some tweaks because of the virus. 

"It's a great opportunity to be able to go to a school and still get all the education you need and not jump into a four-year school and then regret doing this or taking that major. You get to walk through the process and not to mention you get to have a coach and a mentor to help you there and guide you," says Kalani Olatunji. 

She is a Cass Tech grad currently attending Henry Ford College as part of the Detroit Promise program. 

The Detroit Regional Chamber and the mayor's office have helped 4,000 Detroit high students go to college tuition-free that otherwise may have not.

"The way we made sure every high school in the city knew about the promise is, we went to high school to high school and present it to every senior and I got them signed up one at a time. As you know, schools closed early so now we're trying to think about other ways to make sure our seniors know this exists and the opportunity is available to them. And in the past, this opportunity was not available to them so this is brand new to all the seniors in the city that now, maybe if they have a 900 SAT or maybe they're not even confident in their SAT they can still get into college with the tuition-free pathway," says Ashley Johnson from Detroit Promise. 

The testing standard has changed now because of COVID-19. 

"Many of the colleges have not only lowered their SAT but some of them have actually become test-optional. And what that means is students may not even have to submit their SAT scores in order to get admitted and so this is a tremendous new opportunity for students," Johnson says. 

The Detroit Promise allows students to concentrate on studying, not worrying about whether or not their family will have the cash needed to get into a school. This is how it starts.  

"The Detroit Promise offers two pathways, one in the community college where a student can get an associates degree, or enroll in programs get a skilled certificate or skilled trade credential. But one of the things that Kalani just mentioned is, for students who go to community colleges we have success coaches and they have a relatively small caseload. Each success coach has about 100 enrolled students and the coach's job is to do anything necessary to help those students complete college," explains Greg Handel from the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Then students have a chance to transfer to a four-year college, something Kalani plans to once her studies at Henry Ford wrap up.  

"Once I'm done with the two-year institution I would like to go to the four-year institution where I have been given through the Detroit Promise program a four-year scholarship to Wayne State University. I would like to major in creative writing and write books and be able to spread writing to other students and be a teacher possibly," Kalani says. 

Many of our community colleges also offer skilled trade certificates so you can go right into the workforce and start making money. 

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