Some Detroit students need more support in college. A new team of charter schools wants to change that.

Kashia Perkins, a Michigan State University freshman, shown during her June graduation from the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy
Kashia Perkins shown during her June graduation from the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a school run by the charter management company Promise Schools. (Anthony Lanzilote)

Four charter school management companies in Detroit have entered an unusual collaboration to help their graduates succeed in college.

Detroit students often don’t get the support they need to earn a four-year college degree, especially if their parents didn’t attend college. The companies want to reverse that trend: They promise that within a decade, 90% of their high school graduates will complete a full year of college coursework — much higher than the state average.

People with bachelor’s degrees earn 31 percent more on average than those with an associate’s degree and 84 percent more than those with a high school diploma over their lifetimes. Members of the charter school collaborative chose to focus on improving college outcomes rather than directing their students toward career and technical education. 

 “You’ve got a group of schools here who are really committed to college or bust,” said Jack Elsey, executive director of the Detroit Children’s Fund. “They recognize that we talk about careers more in places where kids are poor than we talk about college. I think you have a group of schools here who recognize that their kids are fully capable of going to college and doing well. But it’s not going to be easy.”

Strategies may include hiring additional college counselors or staff to follow up with graduates to ensure they’re on track to complete their first year of college. 

The group, called the Detroit Charter High School Collaborative, promises to share data and best practices around college attainment, an unusual level of cooperation between private management companies in Detroit. It’s part of a larger effort organized by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce to prepare more people to enter the workforce in southeast Michigan.

Members plan to meet in coming months to settle on shared strategies. The Detroit Children’s Fund, a nonprofit, will provide funding and information about best practices for supporting recent graduates.

The collaboration means “more access to resources for students, it puts them in a better situation of opportunity,” said Ralph Bland, president of New Paradigm for Education, one of the largest charter networks in the city.

The companies, which also include Equity Education, Promise Schools, and University Prep Schools, collectively serve more than 3,000 students, many of whom are African-American and economically disadvantaged.

They are fueling a citywide effort to give Detroit students the support they need to earn a college degree. Individual teachers work to encourage students to follow through on college applications. The Detroit Promise scholarship aims to lighten the financial burden for standout learners. And the Detroit district set aside money to ensure every school has a person dedicated to preparing students for college.

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The barriers facing high school graduates in Detroit are daunting, especially if they don’t have family members who attended college, or if they are among the 85% of city students who are economically disadvantaged.

Over the last year, Chalkbeat spent time with recent graduates to show just how much support many need to succeed in college. Nearly half of graduates from Detroit’s main district who make it to college must take remedial courses. Among Detroit charter school graduates, that figure is between 32% and 75%.

Their goal — 90% of students completing a year of college — is ambitious. Between 25% and 60% of 2017 graduates from schools run by participating management companies completed one year of college coursework within two years of graduating. Statewide, that figure is just 52%, one reason Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made higher education attainment a pillar of her education policy.

Danielle Jackson, CEO of University Prep Schools, said the collaboration would help the network identify new ways to help students choose colleges and navigate challenges once they’ve arrived on campus.

“Every one of our students can graduate from college, we know they can,” Jackson said in a statement. “It’s up to us to figure out how we can get them there.”

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