Fuel for Serious Students

THESE days, the once-grand avenues of inner-city Detroit are pockmarked with boarded-up buildings and grass-sprouting sidewalks. But new signs of hope are also appearing. One example: the Detroit Compact, a coalition of business, labor, government, higher education, the community, and the schools, modeled after the pioneering Boston Compact. Its task: to guarantee a job or further educational opportunity to every Detroit high school graduate who meets the standards, and to provide summer jobs along the way. Begun in 1988, the compact has raised $600,000 from private and state sources. It has recently signed up one high school and four middle schools, and plans to operate within the entire school system within 10 years.

What's the deal? Students expecting a job must sign on to meet a set of criteria. Among them: reading and math skills at the 11th-grade level; at least a ``C'' average in a set of predetermined courses; 95 percent attendance in the 12th grade, with 97 percent punctuality; no felony convictions or major Student Code of Conduct violations; no drug use; and a set of leadership and teamwork skills, evidenced by letters of reference. College-bound students must have all of the above plus a 3.0 grade-point average and a specified score on the American College Test (ACT), a national college-entrance exam.

With 6,000 to 7,000 high-school students graduating each year, the commitment by area businesses is potentially significant - as is the commitment by the state's universities, which are lining up with offers of free tuition for those who keep the pact.

Why these generous inducements?

Businesses need a skilled and responsible work force. And universities are competing to meet their own minimum targets for minority enrollment. The Detroit schools are by far the largest source of black university students in the state. Yet if the University of Michigan alone were to meet its 10 percent minority goal, says Detroit school superintendent John W. Porter, there would be no black college-bound students left to enroll in any other state university.

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