In Appreciation of Patience

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Adam Tamburin’s story in Saturday’s Tennessean had a simplistic headline — Success of Tennessee Promise hinges on student retention.

But patience will be far more important than retention in the early years of the statewide scholarship and mentoring program that was established just last year. While everyone wants immediate results to indicate huge progress, that’s not the way Promise programs go. Instead, early results are much more likely to be used as a hammer by critics.

There will be a lot of new types of students in both community colleges and colleges of applied technology thanks to the Tennessee Promise. Will their high school educations prove to be aligned to college expectations? Well, that’s one of the things a Promise program can identify. It is a long-term program that can make systemic change and alignment, but if its success hinges on immediate success, expect it to be seen as a failure.

State officials need to be addressing just that — achieving an end result doesn’t happen on a linear path. The more they learn about behaviors and adapt to what they discover, the more the Tennessee Promise will grow. Year one is pretty much about establishing a baseline. It’s more about learning than it is about expecting accomplishment. It’s about making sure pieces are in place to begin to analyze the results than to fret over the results themselves.

Yet this Tennessean story has already made assumptions, saying that data indicates the current approach by Tennessee community colleges has “not been successful” based upon 41 percent of first-year freshman not returning the following year. Yet there is no explanation of that number. Are students leaving because they have been underprepared by their high schools? Must they work long hours to simply survive and learn that the academic demands are too great to succeed at both?

We should be happy that the Tennessean is providing deep coverage of the Promise, but there is far too much to learn before making declarations about the success, or lack thereof, of the program. If folks want the Tennessee Promise to succeed, they’d do well not to submarine it by making judgments based on early indications.

Find patience, Tennesseans. Assess, discover, react, assess again. That can’t happen in a year.

PromiseNet 2015

Cities of Promise receives frequent inquiries from people exploring a place-based scholarship initiative for their own community. And the best way for those communities to begin is to participate in PromiseNet, which will be held this November in Kalamazoo, Mich. Highlighting PromiseNet 2015 will be a 10th anniversary celebration gala of the establishment of the Kalamazoo Promise, which shook up the world of education back in 2005.

Please take a look at the video for PromiseNet 2014 — which was held in New Haven, Conn. — for some flavor of the event. And if you are interested in joining the community, follow this link to PromiseNet 2015.

The Latest On The Promise

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Cities of Promise took an unexpected break this summer as the Promise here in New Haven has been running wild with records being set — by wide margins — for both paid summer internships and Promise recipients. So let’s dive in and get caught up with the movement.

Big news out West, where the place-based scholarship initiative began in Lake County more than 90 years ago. The Oregon Promise — recently signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown — will assist approximately 5,000 students at 17 community colleges starting in the 2016-17 school year. “We like to study things in Oregon. And for the last two years, we have been studying how to make this happen here,” said Democratic State Senator Mark Hass said. “Under the Obama administration, funding for Pell Grants has doubled. It would be smart for Oregon to take advantage of those dollars.” Here is a fact sheet.

That’s not the only place talking Promise. Down in Baltimore, political, education and philanthropic leaders are exploring an $80-million commitment to free college for city students. Say Yes To Education — the George Weiss-founded program that funds initiatives in both Syracuse and Buffalo — has asked Baltimore to submit a proposal to support the strategy. “We’re committed to looking for ways to provide access to more of our young people,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “And this process that we’re in now is making sure that Say Yes is the right fit for Baltimore and that Baltimore is the right fit for Say Yes.” An editorial in the Baltimore Sun called the plan a “moon-shot” and asked several questions about deployment.

Don’t forget that down in Greensboro, N.C., officials are raising money to become a Say Yes city as well. Just today, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro announced a new $1 million donation, which gives the initiative more than $25 million. That’s within $3 million of the goal.

Other communities have moved to establish a Promise program in recent weeks — from Lowell, Mass., to Grove City, Ohio, to Lancaster, Pa. The folks from Lancaster — who are looking to Pittsburgh for a road map — came to PromiseNet 2014 in New Haven in an exploratory mission.

There is a mixed bag of new from within the existing Promise community. In Kalamazoo, Mich., a paper called “Effects of the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship on College Enrollment, Persistence and Completion” was released by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. “The question with The Promise has always been: Does it have a large effect? The answer is yes,” co-author Tim Bartik told the Kalamazoo Gazette. “I was actually surprised to see how big of an effect it had, and that it was so clear-cut.” But stories from both the Brookings Institute and the Wall Street Journal called the results “disappointing.” Gotta say, reporting an increase of low-income students in Kalamazoo as evidence of a lack of success is a bit of a stretch. We did have a significant recession since the program launched in 2005 and has become the inspiration for replication across the country.

The editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette weighed in on the recent announcement that the Pittsburgh Promise will be reducing its lifetime benefit from $40,000 to $30,000. That switch became necessary when an assessment yielded the news that the program was set to run out of funds in 2022. That has now been backed up to 2028 and extended opportunity for the community to deliver support. “Officials and board members at the Promise must ramp up their efforts to persuade individuals, corporations and foundations to contribute,” wrote the Post-Gazette board.

In Richmond, Calif., where Chevron settlement money has yet to flow into the Richmond Promise, the West Contra Costa school board had a meeting earlier this month and clearly demonstrated that they need to explore and better understand the initiative. One board member called anything but flat funding “a recipe for disaster,” even though other programs have implemented that successfully. Another felt that earlier intervention was a better way to spend the money while failing to understand that motivating and incentivizing students with a longer vision of a successful life provides better outcomes.

The much ballyhooed Tennessee Promise is expected to provide more than $1,000 to students enrolled in community college, but a large swath of the applicants have failed to perform their community service requirement. That hasn’t stopped the Promise from being a game changer across the state as four-year colleges have been working to address the new landscape. Those schools have tweaked recruiting measures — looking at a wider geographical range, encouraging transfer students to apply and even matching the benefits of the Promise itself. “We can’t do all the things we did three years ago,” said Middle Tennessee State University spokesperson Andrew Oppmann. “We’re trying to be a part of the change, not just let the change wash over us.”

And finally, down in Georgia, officials are looking to address the way that the Georgia HOPE Scholarship has become an option for the elite with its 3.7 GPA and 1200 SAT requirements. State representative Stacey Evans is concerned that low-income students who have attended less academically challenging schools are being ignored. “Those are the ones I believe HOPE was intended to help,” she told USA Today. “Those students who are hardworking, studious and smart.”

Those who work with the Promise movement know that it is a game-changer. Cities of Promise is focused on creating awareness to that fact to those who don’t know.

Giving Students Their Wings

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By Brett Hoover

“I think if one is looking for a role model, it can be very difficult to find someone to model yourself after. I think that has probably been my biggest challenge throughout my entire educational experience, both as a student and now as a professor.”

That’s what Dr. Oney Fitzpatrick told The Examiner — an independent news outlet in Beaumont, Texas — back in 2013. And as the Associate Provost for Student Retention at Lamar University, Dr. Fitzpatrick was a role model for countless students, particularly males of color who find too few African-American male options who teach at their universities.

The impact of such a role model can be immeasurable. A single intervention can change not only the academic trajectory of unfocused or undisciplined student, a role model can deliver life-long benefits.

I can attest to that. And Oney was my mentor. This week he passed away unexpectedly following a heart attack. His legion of mentees since have been sharing their stories on social media. Here is mine:

More than 30 years ago, as a sophomore at the University of Dayton, Oney — who’d been a football star at the College of Wooster near his hometown of Cleveland — was the resident assistant on my dorm floor. I wasn’t a bad student, but I also wasn’t the student I could be. Like too many 19-year-olds, my true focus was starting my weekend on Thursday afternoon and ending it sometime after Monday morning classes.

Living just two doors down, Oney must have been watching. Early in the spring semester he engaged me in a conversation. I don’t recall the words, but the message remains crystal clear. He praised me for my potential, challenged me for my performance and offered me support to change my ways.

For me it was the perfect opportunity. I was ready. Instead of going out on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, I spent more time on my purpose. Frequently Oney and I would pull his weightlifting equipment into the spacious hallway and work out late into the night. We’d talk about adult things, including motivation, leadership, discipline, mission and responsibility.

We’d watch as inebriated students returned to the dorm, both looking and acting foolish. I finally saw that from Oney’s 25-year-old eyes and realized that he was guiding me to maturity. My grades improved, I lost weight and within a year I landed a coveted internship with the Cincinnati Reds.

Oney earned his master’s degree and moved on. We lost touch until a strange day when I was walking across campus at the University of Houston and we ran into each other. He was finishing up his Ph.D. in psychology and I was preparing to move back to Ohio for a new job.

Six years ago, I found Oney on Facebook and wrote a note thanking him for what he did for me. From there we caught up and stayed connected through posts and comments. Then came a series of condolence posts late Monday night. My mind raced back to 1984, when the man singled me out and planted grander ideas for myself.

Oney, I could not have discovered a better mentor. I will miss you, but I will do my best to carry you forward.


Brett Hoover — who formerly served as the Associate Director of the Ivy League — is a co-founder of Cities of Promise.