Lifting residents of the greater Ypsilanti area out of economic hardship and training them for well-paid jobs is the aim of a new Washtenaw Community College (WCC) initiative called Advance Ypsi
Through the new initiative, 100 Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) high school students and 200 Ypsi-area adults will receive training and support over three years to prepare them for careers with starting salaries of at least $40,000 per year.
"This is an historic initiative that has the potential to transform the regional talent pipeline in Southeast Michigan and support the goal of college completion," WCC President Rose Bellanca said in a press release about Advance Ypsi.
The initiative is funded through a grant of just over $2 million from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation
. Other community partners include YCS, Michigan Works! Southeast
, and the Detroit Regional Chamber
's Detroit Drives Degrees Community College Collaborative (D3C3
), which recently received funding from The Ballmer Group
. WCC is one of seven southeast Michigan community colleges supported through the D3C3 collaborative.
The 300 Advance Ypsi participants will go through a short-term certificate program in one of six eligible mobility-focused manufacturing, automotive, and IT certificate programs. They'll also receive career preparation through industry partners.
WCC Vice President Brandon Tucker.
"The goal is for each participant to have an experience like an apprenticeship or an internship, gain some experience, and get a job at the end," WCC Vice President Brandon Tucker says. "There's no employer hire guarantee, but we want them to know at the end of the training that these candidates are going to be primed and ready for that career."
WCC officials targeted Ypsilanti because the most recent U.S. Census showed that 50% of households live below the poverty level and the post-secondary educational rate is 20%. Tucker calls the initiative "a historic investment in Ypsilanti."
"These partners are injecting and investing millions into the southeast Michigan region with the express purpose of making sure the playing field is leveled for individuals no matter where they come from," Tucker says.
He says Advance Ypsi is "a natural extension" of the work WCC has done in Ypsilanti for a long time, including co-locating with Michigan Works! at its Harriet Street location, offering programming at Parkridge Community Center, and sponsoring summer youth programming.
"We made a commitment three decades ago to amplify and enhance that eastern side of Washtenaw County that we know, compared to other parts of the county, does not have the educational attainment, and income because of certain barriers," Tucker says. "We're working with our partners to eradicate those barriers and give people the ability to get a career where they can make more than enough to live a great life."
Michigan Works! Southeast Executive Director Shamar Herron.
Advance Ypsi leverages YCS' connections with students to steer graduating seniors toward the program. Meanwhile, Michigan Works! Southeast is sending program candidates to WCC and providing funding so those taking advantage of the new initiative will have pay little to nothing out of pocket, Tucker says. Students 25 and older may also be eligible for free tuition through the Michigan Reconnect Scholarship program
Michigan Works! Southeast Executive Director Shamar Herron says he's "excited" about the partnership. He says employers seeking workers through Michigan Works! are looking for a mix of traditional skills and skills in newer sectors like mobility.
"Even companies in those high-tech fields will need people with support skills," he says.
YCS Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross says YCS already encourages students to graduate with a certificate or some kind of "stackable credential," but this initiative takes that further, steering students and possibly their job-seeking parents toward high-demand, high-paying careers.
Zachery-Ross says school staff often hear from employers who are "strongly recruiting" for skilled workers, especially for health care workers like certified nurse's assistants or emergency medical technicians.
YCS Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross.
"We've done the research and worked together with WCC to really hone in on specific industry jobs that are in high-demand areas," Zachery-Ross says. "But going through this Advance Ypsi program and…. getting a job starting off at $40,000 a year can be a game-changer for your family and for your community."
Zachery-Ross says she appreciates that Advance Ypsi not only lifts up YCS students but, potentially, their families as well. Many YCS students' parents want to go back to college but feel they can't afford to stop working to do it.
"But when a student and their parent are lifted up, then we're changing the whole face of Ypsilanti," Zachery-Ross says. "We are improving our community, and when Ypsilanti does well, Washtenaw County does well."
The initial grant funds a three-year initiative, kicking off this fall. Tucker says WCC hopes to attract more funding and build out infrastructure so the college can continue to prepare students for jobs in in-demand sectors.
For more information about Advance Ypsi and an opportunity to set up a virtual tour of campus, visit WCC's Advance Ypsi webpage
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.