Crain’s Detroit Business
April 24, 2023
The Ballmer Group and Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation are putting more than $30 million behind a community college-driven effort to boost access to higher education and completion rates to help meet employer talent needs.
The two funders have made grants to seven Southeast Michigan community colleges to ensure people interested in pursuing post-secondary certificates and degrees have equitable educational opportunities and graduate with high-value credentials or degrees that lead to good-paying, in-demand jobs with local employers.
The Detroit Regional Chamber is serving as administrator of the Detroit Drives Degree Community College Collaborative. The effort is an outgrowth of the chamber’s Detroit Regional Talent Compact, a 10-year initiative launched in fall 2020 to increase the region’s postsecondary attainment rate to 60 percent and reduce the racial equity gap in half by 2030. The state has since adopted the same goal.
As part of the chamber’s education and talent strategy, D3C3 will work to increase enrollment and community college completion rates, deepen pathways with K-12 districts for expanded access to dual enrollment and early college and build stronger partnerships with employers to develop sectorwide strategies for talent pipeline development, up-skilling, and re-skilling, beginning with the mobility sector.
Community colleges participating in the Detroit Drives Degrees Community College Collaborative include Henry Ford College, Macomb Community College, Monroe County Community College, Oakland Community College, Schoolcraft College, Washtenaw Community College, and Wayne County Community College District.
“Community colleges are the largest and one of the most important talent development assets in Southeast Michigan. Skilled talent is directly linked to economic growth and regional prosperity,” David Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, said in a release.
D3C3 “is a large-scale, strategic injection of investment in our regional community college system that has the potential to make meaningful and lasting change,” he said.
Those facing barriers to degree attainment deserve access to family-sustaining careers, Kylee Mitchell Wells, Ballmer Group’s Southeast Michigan executive director, said in the release.
“This partnership is designed to open new doors and create smoother pathways from education to career success, closing equity gaps across our region.”
The D3C3 effort follows findings that just half of the region’s residents have a post-secondary certificate or degree, continuing a longtime trend of Southeast Michigan trailing the attainment of other best-in-class cities looking to attract employers.
Total post-secondary education attainment, including certificates in areas like nursing and welding, reached 50 percent across an 11-county region in Southeast Michigan in 2019, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2022 “State of Education” report.
That compares to about 60 percent for best-in-class cities examined by the chamber, such as Seattle and Minneapolis.
The percentage of residents in Southeast Michigan with an associate’s degree or higher rose to 41.3 percent in 2019 from 38.4 percent in 2015, according to the report.
“We want students to graduate, of course, but we also must start looking more closely at outcomes after graduation,” Susan Dundon, director of young adults and working families for the Wilson Foundation, said in an emailed statement. “Are there good jobs at the end for students and families? Are we meeting employer demand with the right supply?”
With funding from the Ballmer Group and Wilson Foundation, Dundon said the colleges are developing plans to improve technology to produce better data to support students, add advisers and career navigators, provide access to community college earlier by building stronger relationships with K-12 school districts and offering more dual enrollment and high-quality career and technical education programs and work with employers to build and share curricula in the region’s high-demand career pathways such as mobility.
“And they are committed to replicating and sustaining the approaches that work,” she said.
The chamber’s staff is working with colleges on shaping their proposals and will track the data showing the impact of the effort, Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said.
“It will be our job to make sure that the community colleges are watching each other and learning from each other,” he said. “They’re all going to be doing their own thing on their own timeline, but we’ll still be convening them on a regular basis and we’ll be hoping that even during the implementation or development process…the schools still will continue to share best practices and ideas.”
The National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University, nationally recognized for implementing best practices for improving college completion rates, is providing technical assistance to address student success barriers at each of the community colleges.
Other stakeholders and technical assistance partners in the effort include employers CivicLab, Michigan College Access Network, Michigan Community College Association and MICHauto. The State’s Sixty by 30 Office and Michigan Economic Development Corp are also aligning efforts, according to the release.