Do You Believe You Can Fly?

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By Patricia Melton

Belief. The American Council on Education struggled to explain their recent findings that — in spite of rising high school graduation rates and increased access to college grants, both federal and institutional — low-income students enrolling in college took a significant dive in just five years following the recession.

The report’s top explanation was indeed, belief. “The rapid price increases in recent years, especially in the public college sector, may have led many students — particularly low-income students — to think that college is out of reach financially,” it said.

There are other possibilities. Students from the economic “bottom-fifth” might believe that the value of college has declined. They may think they might not finish or recognized that the for-profit schools that have been feasting on the Pell-eligible are largely scams. The Council even suggests that their own findings — a double-digit enrollment drop from 56 percent to 46 percent — may be wrong.

But let’s zone in on a primary belief. What happens if students and families were aware that college was in reach for everyone in their city? What if they had assistance in navigating federal forms and financial incentives for strong performance in high school?

Well, even without a national study, I’d be willing to wager that the Cities of Promise have bucked this trend. What I can do is give figures from New Haven, Conn., home of the New Haven Promise.

For the last four years New Haven Promise has been tracking the household incomes of the families of those scholars who’ve accepted the scholarship. Since that benchmark Class of 2012, the number of scholars from household with incomes of at least $30,000 have risen by more than 30 percent. Those from households with less than $30,000 of income? Try a rise of 63 percent! From 54 in 2012 to 88 in 2015.

Now while those students are a bit more likely to discontinue their studies, those who persist have a higher mean grade-point average than their wealthier counterparts.

Showing a path and instilling a belief? Maybe it isn’t the explanation, but it sure won’t hurt!


Patricia Melton is the Executive Director of New Haven Promise

Blazing The Trail To A Degree

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Earlier this month at the national PromiseNet conference in Kalamazoo, Mich., there was a lot of discussion of fundraising for Promise scholarship programs.

How do you set an appropriate fundraising goal? What is the best way to attract unrestricted gifts for program management? Are matching grants a thing of the past? Is there a way to build a sustainable and reliable source of funding through creative taxation? What is the best ‘pitch’ to lock down a major funder?

Of course, all of those are important questions, particularly for a program just getting off the ground, but there might be even more important initiatives to undertake to get a campaign off the ground or extend the shelf life of a movement as it builds capacity.

I’m going to call it the “Cornerstones of College Affordability.” If you don’t have a dime for scholarships, you can still create dollars for scholars through maximizing pre-existing sources. And if you have scholarship dollars, there are ways to leverage them to make sure that students get up to three times as much money from sources other than the Promise dollars.

Here are the five cornerstones:

1. Federal aid — There is a lot of unclaimed money for low-income students through the Pell Grant program. Students who qualify for Pell can get close to $6,000 annually to cover expenses and many scholarship programs use that as part of the equation in determining a scholarship award. Every program should encourage and assist students and families to complete their FAFSA applications in both accurate and timely fashions.

2. Financial literacy — Those who are first-generation students can find unhappy surprises — not just the hidden costs of college, but also the deadlines for payment. Choosing the right college from the start can make all the difference in getting that diploma. Having access to those who can explain the process and its expectations, even before the selection a school, can help families steer clear of the roughest waters.

3. Institutional aid — Those programs who are forking over checks to colleges have some leverage to create universal benefits for its Promise scholars, particularly if they can demonstrate patterns of increased success in comparison to the broader student body. But you don’t have to wait to begin that conversation. Without question, the earlier students complete applications to college, the stronger the chance they can tap into existing university scholarship pools.

4. Other scholarships — Most places in the U.S. have existing scholarships intended for local students and there are also regional and national award programs as well. The problem is that most students are unaware what is out there. If someone associated with a program can provide resources, the affordability puzzle becomes more complete. There are students who are making college debt-free by taking advantage of multiple opportunities.

5. Paid internships — Not only are students much more likely to find full-time work after college after taking advantage of paid internships while in college, they can also make use of summer work to defray the costs associated with college. Any program that works with the local business community to create such opportunities will produce better results and retain more students after graduation.

No, none of this helps a Promise program with its overhead, but each one helps improve outcomes for students. A promise can mean a lot of things, including the promise to help young people blaze that trail both to and through college.

Hook ‘Em Horns

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Add the University of Texas to the ever-growing list of colleges and universities who are branding scholarship initiatives intended to attract high-performing, low-income students.

This program — called Texas Advance — will provide nearly 1,000 scholarships to in-state students worth $20,000 over four years to allow further opportunities for students and provide a more diverse campus.

Straight from the UT News Bureau:

“Making our campus as accessible as possible to students of all backgrounds is extremely important, and Texas Advance is designed to ensure we are helping the students who need it most,” said David Laude, senior vice provost of enrollment and curriculum services.

In total, students can earn up to $15,000 per year when Texas Advance is combined with available Pell and TEXAS Grants, which is enough to cover the cost of tuition, books and fees at UT Austin. Additionally, Texas Advance students are admitted to their first-choice colleges within the university.

Many universities across the country are doing more to address the needs of low-income and first-generation students. A few examples include The Carolina Covenant at the University of North Carolina, the High Achieving Involved Leaders at the University of Michigan, the William & Mary Promise and the Rutgers Future Scholars.

At Cities of Promise, we applaud any and every effort to remove the fiscal peril for high-performing students from low-income backgrounds.

The Plexus of The Promise

I just took in my second PromiseNet national conference, but the first one almost doesn’t count as I spent most of my time handling registration and logistics when we hosted in New Haven a year ago.

This time I was much more immersed in Promise discussion, learning from others and even passing on words of advice and encouragement.

In addition to that and paying homage to the 10th anniversary of The Kalamazoo Promise, we also worked in a good bit of fun.

patricia-vonOn Tuesday night Cities of Promise hosted the first Promise Swag Swap at the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange. The idea was simple. After the official PromiseNet activities came to an end, we kept the party going and engaged the Promise professionals who came far and wide through an exchange of apparel, an exchange of ideas and an exchange of laughter.

About 60 of the conference attendees took over the ground floor. Folks from Denver and Vegas. Oakland, Los Angeles, San Marcos and Richmond, Calif. Ypsilanti, Muskegon, and Wayne, Mich. The Villages, Fla., Pittsburgh and D.C. Dayton, Akron and Piqua, Ohio, were all there. Greenwood, S.C., Hartford, Conn., Rockford, Ill., La Crosse, Wis., and Philadelphia. New York City and New Haven, Conn. And even the PromiseNet hosts from Kalamazoo were there. (Click here for a full gallery from the Swag Swap)

jorth-antonioWe appreciated everyone’s attendance and support of the Movement. That’s what Cities of Promise is about — networking, showcasing and sharing.

And there’s also emotion. Bob Jorth, the executive director of The Kalamazoo Promise, admits to being quick to tears and when he introduced 12-year-old Antonio at the 10th Anniversary Gala on Wednesday night, he was a bit overcome.

You see, Antonio, is expected to be the first second-generation Promise scholar in Kalamazoo. His mother graduated from college thanks to the Promise and is now a teacher with Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Seeing generational results? Yeah, that’s reason to cry.