Detroit Drive Degrees: Tackling Racial Inequities to Meet Regional Attainment Goals

In early 2020, Education Strategy Group kicked off work to support Detroit Drives Degrees (D3), an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber that aims to meet two critical goals by 2030 1) Increase the number of individuals with a postsecondary degree or credential to 60 percent and 2) Close the racial equity gap by half. The Detroit effort was led by a leadership council made up of prominent education, business, government, non-profit, and philanthropic leaders whose collective weight had the potential to transform the region’s approach to aligning the education and workforce agendas.

ESG’s work to support these efforts through the development of a strategic plan and the facilitation of broad stakeholder engagement included a foundational focus on identifying gaps in postsecondary attainment, targeting strategies to close them, and setting goals for when they would be closed. 

Step 1: Quantifying the Racial Equity Gap

By establishing a racial equity goal, the Detroit Regional Chamber set the tone from the start. This explicit prioritization of racial equity in postsecondary attainment established a clear guiding principle for the work; examining and directly addressing gaps in attainment by race is the only way to successfully ensure that the broader regional population had the postsecondary credentials needed for economic success. 

But what would it mean to close equity gaps by half in terms of actual Detroiters? An initial trajectory analysis conducted on the region showed 265,000 more Detroiters would need to complete a credential by 2030 to meet the 60 percent goal. Using this as the baseline, ESG worked with the D3 team to dig into regional census data on attainment and population trends to determine the numbers of Black and Latinx adults that would need to earn a degree or credential in order to cut equity gaps in half and meet the goal. The analysis revealed that a disproportionate percent of the 265,000 credentials earned in the next ten years would have to come from Black and Latinx Detroiters (40 percent of credentials vs. 27 percent of total population). This became a key talking point to drive conversations about equity in the region.

Step 2: Identifying Key Barriers to Success and Putting Forward Solutions 

Through additional data analysis and stakeholder engagement, ESG identified eight key challenges the region is facing in graduating more college students and 17 key strategies that would need to be implemented to address them. Each of these challenges, and their corresponding strategies, had an explicit and intentional focus on addressing the needs of Black and Latinx Detroiters.

For instance, an analysis of publicly available state data revealed that, while college enrollments in the region are declining overall in the region, Black and Latinx students have experienced the highest percentage point drop of any other demographic group. To address this, ESG recommended two evidence-based strategies, with national examples to guide implementation. They included: 1) dramatically increase college and career advising beginning in 9th grade; and 2) develop a regional effort to combat summer melt. These two strategies alone have garnered commitments from over 20 regional entities. In fact, using momentum from the Detroit Regional Talent Compact, Detroit launched a regional summer melt effort in spring 2020 to combat the predicted effects of COVID-19. 

Step 3: Securing Public Commitments 

Ratified by the D3 Leadership Council on September 30, D3 unveiled the strategic plan and made its equity commitments public in a livestream event in October 2020. To date, nine employers, six philanthropic organizations, seven non-profits, five school districts, eight postsecondary institutions, and one government entity have signed up to lead and support work to meet the region’s equity goal. With concrete and specific goals in place, partners across the region will begin implementing strategies outlined in the plan to close gaps in attainment and open up greater opportunity for all Detroiters.