For Cengage Exec, Detroit Collective Impact About Hope, Education

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program. Perhaps most important, participants are able to complete the classes without having to quit their jobs. To conserve Detroit Collective Impact’s tight resources, potential students are asked to complete a pre-requisite class that allows them to “kick the tires” and determine if the program is a good fit. Only 30 percent of students finish the program, he added, but 80 percent go on to get more education.

According to Stefanski, the support of Detroit Collective Impact’s partners is key to the program’s success. McDonald’s, the lead national partner, changed its human resources policies to make the program available to all U.S. employees after they have nine months on the job. (The program costs about $1,300 per student, a figure Stefanski said is out of reach for most participants, so its partners chip in to cover costs.) McDonald’s wants at least one employee from each restaurant to participate in what it calls Archways to Opportunity.

“McDonald’s recognizes that customers won’t trust McDonald’s unless they trust the way they treat employees,” Stefanski said. “It’s a major strategic initiative from the new CEO.”

Stefanski said he won’t “rest easily” until he sees at least 10 percent of the city’s dropouts participating in Detroit Collective Impact. Because the 18-credit course is not a GED program, students are able to transfer whatever credits they did earn in high school, an average of six to nine credits per student. Cengage hopes to eventually expand the program to other parts of the country, with Phoenix, AZ, planned as the second city to host Collective Impact.

“Beyond the numbers, we want to change the false image people have of dropouts,” Stefanski said. “There are many, many bright people without a high school diploma. We have to smash the myth that it has to do with the person and not the broken system. That’s as much a goal as anything.”

The irony in all this, Stefanski noted, is that his grandmother had only a 6th grade education. However, back then, a lack of education wasn’t a barrier to getting a good-paying job like it is now.

A few weeks ago, Detroit Collective Impact celebrated the graduation of its first student, a single mother in her 40s named Tina Calhoun. The ceremony was held at Matrix Human Services, and Stefanski was there with bells on.

Once he found his seat, he looked up and realized where he was: across the street from Assumption Grotto, an old Catholic church not far from the city airport. It’s where his grandmother attended worship services, and it’s also where she’s buried. One can only hope that from her perch in the Hereafter, Vicki Stefanski shared in the celebration.

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the Custom Content Editor for Xconomy Insight. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or Follow @

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