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New Program To Help Former Students Eliminate Debt While Finishing Degrees and Certificates

Detroit Regional Chamber and three institutions expand debt forgiveness footprint to remove barriers to finishing degrees and embark on first-of-its-kind program.

DETROIT  – Today, the Detroit Regional Chamber with higher education institution partners Henry Ford College (HFC), Oakland University (OU), and Wayne State University (WSU) announced an innovative new program that will remove a primary barrier to degree completion for thousands of adults in the Detroit region.

The program targets the 693,000 adults across the Detroit region with college credits, but no degree, by offering debt forgiveness of previously incurred educational debt at WSU, OU and HFC provided that students enroll at any of these three institutions, remain current on their new higher education financial obligations, and make progress towards degree or certificate completion.

This effort is part of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s region-wide goal to improve the postsecondary attainment rate from 40% to 60% by 2030. Targeting the 693,000 adults with some college but no degree is a prime opportunity to progress toward the 60% goal.

WSU, OU and HFC have jointly agreed to the following principles:

  1. Unlimited. There is no cap to the number of students that can participate.

  2. Flexible. Both community college (maximum debt forgiveness of one half of total outstanding student debt) and four-year university programs (maximum $1,500 of debt forgiveness) included.

  3. Reciprocity. Participating institutions agree to share academic transcripts with other participating institutions for students enrolled in the program, if students agree to enroll in a payment plan.

“One of the most effective ways to increase our region’s education attainment level is to remove barriers to those adults who already have some college credits to be able to complete their degree or certificate program. This multi-institution debt forgiveness program will be an important element of moving our region’s educational attainment rate to the 60% goal,” noted Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Chamber.

WSU’s debt forgiveness program, Warrior Way Back, announced last spring will now be integrated into this multi-institutional regional effort.

“Since Wayne State University announced our groundbreaking ‘Warrior Way Back’ debt-forgiveness initiative last year, higher education institutions across the country have sought to implement similar programs, but Detroit is the first to develop a community-wide partnership,” said M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University. “We know that today’s students are more diverse than ever, and this partnership is a powerful tool for promoting greater educational equity.”

OU will begin its debt-forgiveness initiative, Golden Grizzlies Graduate program, later this spring. The program will increase access, affordability and opportunity in three ways: connecting with students who have outstanding debt; incentivizing students who do not have debt and want to come back to school; and, offering grants to current students who have debt.

“The challenge is to create responsive ways to support students as they decide on how best to deal with debt and other issues that may be obstacles in completing their degrees,” said Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz. “These three types of grants assist with students in debt and offer ways for current students – who have loans – to manage their debt.”

HFC has a history of offering debt forgiveness opportunities to students, and has found success in student persistence, awards conferred, and student transfers. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 83% of debt- forgiveness students persisted through at least one semester, and more than 50% completed an HFC credential or transferred to another institution to pursue additional education.

"Two of our core goals at Henry Ford College are reducing barriers to educational access, and connecting students with meaningful career paths," said Russell Kavalhuna, president of Henry Ford College. "When we implemented a debt-forgiveness program six years ago, many students successfully completed their HFC programs and transferred to other universities. This new partnership will further strengthen our university and industry connections, support student degree attainment, and help create the future workforce Michigan needs."

Individuals with debt from any of these participating institutions should go to www.detroitdrivesdegrees.com/comeback to fill out the Reconnect Form and will hear from a representative to help you navigate. The Chamber is doing ongoing outreach to additional institutions in the region to create a broader footprint of regional institutions that are willing to participate and create their own debt forgiveness program. Interested institutions should contact Melanie D’Evelyn at mdevelyn@detroitchamber.com.

Because of the Chamber’s momentum around education attainment, Lumina Foundation and The Kresge Foundation designated Detroit a ‘Talent Hub’ last year. The designation is part of a larger collective impact effort in the works to increase postsecondary attainment in the region.


Media Contacts:

Detroit Regional Chamber: Kelly Weatherwax, 313.596.0360, kweatherwax@detroitchamber.com
Henry Ford College: Rhonda DeLong, 313.317.6800, rdelong@hfcc.edu
Oakland University: Frank Provenzano, 248.370.3645, fprovenzano@oakland.edu
Wayne State University: Katie McMillan, 313-577-8094, katie.mcmillan@wayne.edu

FOR MEDIA INQUIRIES:
Tracy Chen
317.951.5316​
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