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Preparing K-12 for Postsecondary Success

Key Takeaways

  • On the other side of education, the system needs to offer students meaningful career opportunities. The business community needs to connect with these institutions to make this happen.
  • Supports need to start early and persist throughout a student’s education journey. This includes economic and societal resources to support the adults and communities surrounding students.
  • The influx of funding coming from the American Rescue Plan must be allocated thoughtfully. The decision makers must connect with educational systems to find the core issues that need to be addressed to impart lasting results.

Detroit Public Television and The Detroit News’ Nolan Finley led a conversation with regional higher education, philanthropic, and government leaders to address actionable accountability in postsecondary education to ensure student success.

Henry Ford College President Russell A. Kavalhuna, Davenport University President Richard Pappas, The Skillman Foundation’s President and Chief Executive Officer Angelique Power, and the City of Detroit’s Group Executive of Jobs, Economy, and Detroit at Work Nicole Sherard-Freeman, cited coordination with employers, wrap-around student resources and engagement starting in K-12, and societal supports for students’ families and communities as integral to improve educational and economic outcomes once and for all.

Seeing the Path Through 

The state, Detroit Regional Chamber, and statewide educational institutions have adopted a goal to reach 60% postsecondary attainment by 2030. What will it take to achieve that?

Kavalhuna says it’s going to take a restructuring of our educational system. 46 out of 100 students that enter higher education, do not leave with a college credential, which include bachelor’s and associate degrees, or certificates. To support students getting to the end of that pipeline programs like the Detroit Promise are making that happen, and Henry Ford College has the most Detroit Promise students. On the other side of education, the system needs to offer students a meaningful career.

Though K-12 catches much of the blame for failures in the education system, Pappas acknowledged the need for postsecondary to take more accountability. Thirty percent of his students at Davenport University are students of color and 40% are first generation, and peer mentoring has proven essential to ensuring their success.

“We found that the students that come to us who don’t use peer mentoring retain at 69%, but the ones who come to us and do peer mentoring – first-generation students – retain at 91%,” he said.

Reestablishing the Expectation for Student Success

Success for students of color should not be extraordinary, Power said. Current systems have never been built for Black and brown students.

“The exquisite design of racism is everywhere,” she said.

Antiracist policies will ensure that not only the exceptional make it through and that systems are there to serve Black and brown children – especially in Detroit. Power also shared that a Skillman Foundation survey found that there is a great deal of optimism and agency among these students. The reason, she said, is that we don’t have to empower young Black and brown students.

“They are powerful people, and they know it,” Power said. “They are not necessarily being set up for success.” She continued: “It is on us at this moment to tap into this existing power and channel it for our collective benefit.”

Supports Need to be Comprehensive and Consistent  

Keeping and ushering students through the education system requires active attention and consistent, wrap-around academic and personal supports. Pappas cited the importance of assigning students the same advisor throughout college.

“That’s really part of retention,” he said. “They [students] drop out early if they’re not paid attention to.”

This preparation for a “college-going culture,” as Kavalhuna noted, requires setting that expectation early on, providing opportunities like early enrollment for high school students to start earning credits and get acclimated. Power stated this should start even earlier with kindergarten readiness, literacy improvement, after school programs, and investing in leadership development for principals who manage these deeply complex systems. Sherard-Freeman extended this sentiment outside the classroom.

“We are kidding ourselves if we believe that we are going to prepare K-12 students for postsecondary success absent considering what’s going on in the home,” she said.

Supports need to apply to the parents, guardians, community leaders as well as ensuring the circles children come up in and network in. Not all parents and guardians have the privilege of being accessible and available to participate in their children’s education while they’re working to support them, so they need resources too.

Harnessing Immediate Resources in the Short-Term 

A tremendous amount of funding is coming to our state’s education system through the American Rescue Plan, and how this money is allocated will be critical, said Sherard-Freeman. Power noted it costs $9,500 to educate a child in Michigan compared to the $38,000 it takes to incarcerate someone.

“Those that are most marginalized, most impacted by the systems, are not the designers of the solutions,” Power said.

Policymakers and philanthropic figures with the least proximity to these needs are making the calls and need to be more strategic about targeting funding to create long-term solutions.

In the short term, Pappas acknowledged that online learning is only getting started, and investments in ensuring broadband and technology – and the respective training – is accessible to all students.

Power sees moment as an opportunity to make our communities into living laboratories.

“Invest your time, your intellectual capital, and make possibility happen.”

This session was sponsored by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.