Rockford Promise began on a small scale, but plans to see the initiative grow. Using funds donated by individuals and through fundraising activities, seven $500 scholarships awardees were selected in 2011, 14 in 2012 and 27 in 2013. Scholarships have been awarded by random drawings at each District 205 high school selected from students who have prepared their FAFSA application.
Last year, District 205 engaged Northern Illinois University to develop an estimated impact of adopting a College for All program in Rockford. NIU’s analysis concludes “for every dollar invested, an estimated $131 would be generated in additional lifetime earnings, increased local expenditures, and avoided costs of social programs and incarceration.” Few investments provide such a spectacular return.
And return is what the Promise is looking for, as in the number of students who complete a post-secondary education program and are gainfully employed in the Rockford region. It’s hard to argue with the goal of economic enhancement as the community would be revitalized if it could attract potential employers who want a more educated workforce and provide higher paying jobs.
In late 2013, Rockford residents and officials founded Transform Rockford, laying out the “brutal facts” about the city and the region and calling for action. More than 1,000 people showed up for the introductory meeting, which included a focus on the city’s graduation rate (23 percent below the state average). The ultimate goal is a strategic plan for the region.