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Black Futures Matter: Detroit’s Regional Compact to Get it Together for Equitable Postsecondary Attainment

Dr. Andre Perry says, “There’s nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.” It follows that there is nothing wrong with Black students, and when we talk about the “failure” to “earn” a degree, we need to remember that our students and teachers are not broken; our systems are. 

Systems do what they are designed to do. From policing to education, this moment calls on us to reform, redesign, and—if necessary—dismantle systems that cause harm and inherently privilege whiteness.

In education, we fail students of color at every turn. Beginning at a young age, Black students are often over-policed and under-affirmed and supported; far too many leave high school unprepared for their next step. And those who do attend post-secondary often lack the academic readiness, emotional support, financial resources, and resilience to navigate institutions that were not built for their success.

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s State of Education report (December 2019) highlighted that:

  • 47% of Detroit regional students who pursue postsecondary education have not earned a degree or certificate within six years of graduating from high school.
  • The Detroit region has some of the largest divide between White and Black college graduation rates in the country, with 60% of White students graduating and only 26% of Black students (based on six-year graduation rates).
  • Only 17% of individuals without a college degree earn a family-sustaining wage in the region, and 69% of Detroit residents ages 18-64 without a high school diploma are either not in the labor force or unemployed.

We must do better for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and all students of color in Detroit. This week, The Skillman Foundation was pleased to join in the unveiling of a historic effort and commitment. Led by the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Detroit Regional Talent Compact brings together stakeholders from business, philanthropy, government, and K-12 and higher education to accomplish two goals: increase the postsecondary attainment rate to 60% and reduce the racial equity gap by half by 2030.

While we as individuals and organizations may not be culpable for where our region is today, we are certainly responsible. Therefore, together with our regional philanthropic partners, we have created a coordinated framework to fund the strategies outlined in the Compact. This collectively represents over $18 million in aligned giving to the four focus areas outlined in the Regional Master Plan.

We will work as a local philanthropy network in service of the plan for the next decade—aligning funding, civic leadership, and advocacy efforts on behalf of students at every opportunity. As for The Skillman Foundation, we will continue to support our partners in efforts to:

  • Strengthen the Detroit College Access Network and Detroit Promise capacity to train and support Detroit counselors, build college-going school culture in high schools, and offer virtual stop-gap student-facing supports.
  • Strengthen Detroit high schools’ capacity to offer equitable access to high-quality dual enrollment opportunities.
  • Deepen integration of postsecondary access and exposure into youth employment and workforce exposure and training programs and platforms that The Skillman Foundation invests in and/or advises on.

The movement for Black lives speaks to the intrinsic value and potential of EVERY child. And this must be about more than survival. Many people believe that college is not for everyone; I agree. But there is a line between providing other choices for students and failing to prepare them for a chance altogether—the racialized bigotry of low expectations for those who could and should be first-generation college students and graduates. Without a degree, how many young people will end up doing underpaid hourly work that could be vulnerable to recession and automation?

We cannot just prepare young people for their first job; we must prepare them to confidently choose from and succeed in a broad range of paths to meaningful, living-wage work and remain resilient lifelong learners who can navigate job changes. This means tackling the incredible barriers that exist today, especially for students of color. From increased summer melt support for students to increased financial aid offerings and protections, the benefits of Detroit’s coordinated action are already being revealed. And we are in it for the long road ahead– Detroit youth deserve the best and no less.

The Skillman Foundation president and CEO Tonya Allen participated in a panel discussion on the Detroit Regional Talent Compact on October 2, 2020. Watch below.

Ashley Aidenbaum

Leads college and career access and success efforts as well as capacity building for in- and out-of-school efforts

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