How a coach and a financial incentive helped Detroit high school graduates succeed in college

Students who earn a Detroit Promise scholarship to attend community college are more likely to have better outcomes during their first year in college if they receive guidance from a campus coach and financial stipends.

Results of a study released Wednesday morning show that students who benefitted from a separate program, the Detroit Promise Path  — which provided the coaches and incentives — were more likely to enroll full time, stay in school, attend summer sessions, and earn more credits. The program was created because officials were concerned that a large number of scholarship recipients were dropping out of college after their first year.

The findings illustrate how important it is for students who receive the Detroit Promise to receive support once they receive the college aid. The program provides two-year and four-year scholarships to qualifying Detroit residents.

The study was conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research firm that also helped design the Detroit Promise Path program, which began in 2013.

It was a random assignment evaluation, meaning about two-thirds, or 829, of the students who earned the scholarship were randomly placed in the Path program, while the rest, 439 students, received no coaching or stipends.

Those assigned to the Path program began meeting with a college coach during the summer before their first semester of college. The coaches continued to meet with the students throughout their first year, and urged them to take summer classes or participate in a summer jobs program.

As an incentive to attend the coaching meetings, the students also were provided with a gift card that was refilled with $50 each month.

The key findings, according to a news release, include:

  • 63% of the students who were part of the Path program enrolled in a second semester of college classes, compared with 55% for non-participants.
  • 33% of the Path students were enrolled full-time, compared with 23% for nonparticipants.
  • 20.5% of the Path students enrolled in summer classes after their first year, compared with 7% of nonparticipants.
  • 11% of the Path students completed 24 or more college credits during their first year, compared with 6% of nonparticipants.

The goal of the Detroit Promise, operated by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, is to increase  the number of Detroit students who graduate from high school and go on to college. Students who receive the two-year scholarship and enroll in a community college — like those who benefitted from the Path program — only need to be Detroit residents and high school graduates. The four-year scholarship has more stringent requirements: A 3.0 grade point average and a 1060 on the SAT. A Chalkbeat Detroit story earlier this year found that just a small fraction of the Detroit students who graduate each year qualify for the four-year scholarship.