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A tuition-free path to an associate's degree

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A new initiative aims to do nothing short of changing Detroit's culture, offering a tuition-free path to an associate's degree for students graduating from city high schools.

The program is part of the statewide Promise Zones that create tax increment financing for scholarships in 10 high-poverty communities in Michigan. Private donors are providing funding now and will get a portion of future growth in these areas.

The Detroit Regional Chamber is administering the program in Detroit. More than 2000 students have already visited the website of the program and provided their contact information, says Greg Handel, senior director of workforce development for the Detroit Regional Chamber. "It's a first step, and it's all part of creating more of a college-going culture," says Handel. "We hope that students will go into any career programs at the community colleges or get an associates degree which allows them to step into living wage jobs."

Students are required to fill out the FAFSA financial aid application, and the scholarship program will cover tuition beyond whatever Pell Grants or other non-loan aid that the student receives, Handel says. Not only is this aimed at improving the education levels and thus the economic prospects for Detroit graduates, it creates awareness of the scholarships available for Detroit students; too often they decide they can't afford college without investigating financial aid options that are available to them.

It also will make Detroit a more attractive place for middle-income families, Handel predicts, because there are no income limitations for the program. It is open to any senior who is a Detroit resident and graduating any Detroit high school – public, charter, parochial or private.

Scholarships are available for studies at Wayne County Community College District, Oakland Community College, Macomb Community College, Henry Ford Community College, and Schoolcraft College. 

More information will be announced at a press conference at the Mackinac Policy Conference this week, Handle says, including corporate and foundation funders for the program.

Writer: Amy Kuras
Source: Greg Handel, Detroit Regional Chamber
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