Two years after his death, a stipulation in Bernard Daly’s will was activated. Thus the first known “Promise” program in the nation was born in the form of the Daly Education Fund, which has since paid full college-tuition costs for generations of high school graduates in Lake County, Ore. Here is what he wrote in his will: “It is my earnest desire to help, aid and assist worthy and ambitious young men and women of my beloved county of Lake, to acquire a good education, so that they may be better fitted and qualified to appreciate and help to preserve the laws and constitution of this free country, defend its flag, and by their conduct as good citizens reflect honor on Lake county and the state of Oregon.”
Truman Collins and J.T. McDonald — owners of the Fremont Sawmill in Lakeview, Ore. — decided to establish another educational fund for the small town, one which would allow students to have tuition-free passage to out-of-state colleges and trade schools. The Collins-McDonald Trust Fund continues to provide this scholarship as it has now funded close to 1,000 students. Remarkably, two other scholarship funds have been established for Lake County students since.
The Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara was founded by a small group headed by Ruth Nadel, who would become the first president of the foundation’s board of directors. The program began with nine $100 grants, but has blossomed in the largest community-based scholarship and support program in the country. In total, the Foundation has disbursed more than $75 million to more than 30,000 Santa Barbara County students since. Nadel described the attitude of the founders as “Let’s see what we can dream. We recognized the potential of students and we were all anxious to help them move ahead. Anyone seeking further or higher education — whether to be a plumber or an engineer, a student or an artist.” Nadel — a member of the first female cohort at Baruch College in New York City — turned 100 years old in February.
At the age of 62, as Eugene Lang returned to his P.S. 121 elementary school in East Harlem to deliver a speech to honor the graduation of 61 sixth-graders, his words were not going to be unique. He planned to tell the students that if they worked diligently they would be successful, just like him. He later called it “the usual commencement banalities.” But an off-the-cuff remark by the school principal, who told Lang that 75 percent of the students he was about to address wouldn’t graduate high school, changed everything. Minutes later, Lang found himself making a promise to every mortar-board wearing student. Stay in high school and graduate and your college tuition will be covered. As he delivered his impromptu speech, he found his stride by channeling a famous, significantly impromptu speech. In telling the class about the March on Washington, highlighted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, he urged them to dream. “You need a dream to get on with the next big passage in life.”
After remaining quiet about his “promise” to P.S. 121 students, Lang talked to the New York Times in 1985 in hopes that his idea takes root with other philanthropists. The following February, Lang is interviewed by Harry Reasoner on 60 Minutes, resulting in eight people approaching him about replicating the idea. The national “I Have A Dream” came about in the aftermath. In 1987 “I Have A Dream” programs were launched in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Dallas, Kansas City and Hartford.
More than 100 students from the Belmont Elementary School in West Philadelphia gathered in a hot auditorium for a sixth-grade graduation. Most were from families on public assistance. All were African-American. Diane Weiss — carrying out mission of her husband George Weiss, who was sidelined with bad back — told the students that they would all have a free college education. By 1999 the Weisses had spent more than $5 million on tutoring, counseling, social services and university expense. And while some suggested the payoff — fewer than 20 degrees and certificates — didn’t meet with the expense, but Weiss — who founded a self-named money-management firm in Hartford, Conn., in 1978 — felt it was worth each penny. He also learned invaluable lessons which allowed him to establish Say Yes To Education, which funds high-poverty students in both Syracuse and Buffalo and plans to expand to another city soon.
Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer signed into law the first state-funded, merit-based college tuition program in the country — the Louisiana College Tuition Plan. It was Patrick Taylor (pictured) — a successful energy businessman — who conceived the idea after speaking to a group of underperforming students at Livingston Middle School in New Orleans East. While many planned to drop out of school, when Taylor asked for a show of hands from those who wanted to go to college, every hand went up. The original legislation included an income cap, but in 1997 that cap was removed and the program officially became the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). In 2008, two decades after the development of the plan, the word “Tuition” was replaced by “Taylor,” in honor of the initiator who’d passed away in 2004.
Voters in Georgia — at the urging of Gov. Zell Miller — passed the state’s lottery amendment, which established a pipeline of proceeds for the HOPE Scholarship. Within a year of its passage, lottery tickets were being sold and scholarship money began flowing to college students. In total, the program has disbursed $6 billion to more than 1.4 million students and Georgia’s percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree has jumped nearly 10 points (from 19 to 28). Four years later, neighboring Florida enacted a similar lottery-funded program — the Bright Futures program. Today nine states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia — dole out lottery earnings to defray college expense. Even so, lottery money has not kept pace with the soaring cost of college.
Hotel magnet Harris Rosen visited a the troubled neighborhood for a school visit and asked a group of children how many wanted to go to college. “Two or three hands went up,” he remembered. He made a commitment to a change, inherently believing that the neighborhood’s best answer to crime and hopelessness was education. In two decades, he has poured more than $10 million into the 3,000-resident Tangelo Park. In a community which once saw more than half of its young people drop out of school, there have been nearly 500 Rosen Scholars since. In the most informal way, his generous scholarships pay for tuition and fees, room and board, books and travel for those students who attend in-state public schools. There is no staff for the Tangelo Park Program. Volunteers — and Rosen himself — take care of the needs.
President Bill Clinton unveils the High Hopes for College program, designed to encourage colleges and universities to take a leadership role in replicating the model that “I Have A Dream” pioneered 17 years earlier. This program — renamed and passed as Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) — is a competitive grant program of the U.S. Department of Education that increases the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education by providing States and local community-education partnerships six-to-seven year grants to offer support services to high-poverty, middle and high schools. It was signed into law on September 29 by President Clinton.
Established with a major gift from Phoenix’s Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation, Promise for the Future was designed to encourage students from Arizona’s Pinal County to stay in high school, graduate with a 2.75 grade point average and perform community service each year. The scholarship entitles them to free tuition to any Central Arizona College campus for up to four consecutive semesters.
In the world of place-based scholarships, the big bang occurred on Nov. 10, 2005, when the Kalamazoo Promise was unveiled at a board of education meeting. Media attention soon followed as the program has been featured by the major networks and in outlets like the New York Times. The Promise — with Dr. Janice Brown leading the way — was a pledge from anonymous donors to pay up to 100 percent of tuition at any of Michigan’s state colleges or universities for graduates of the city’s public high schools. Since the ‘big bang,’ Kalamazoo has moved into the nation’s top 25 cities as rated by the education attainment of the population. The school district has grown, test scores have improved and a larger percentage of high-school grads are going to college. The Kalamazoo Promise recently announced an agreement with several of Michigan’s private colleges to provide partnership funding of city students.
With the creation of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, the founders launched the largest, most comprehensive organizational structure to date with a staff of more than 20 focusing on scholarship administration, student outreach, post-secondary retention and development. Timothy and Bernadette Marquez — primary owners of a Denver-based energy company — were the initial donors to the Denver Scholarship Foundation, giving $50 million toward a $200 million goal. To date, the Foundation has awarded nearly 5,000 students more than $20 million.
Murphy Oil became the first corporation to establish a city-wide place-based scholarship with the launch of the El Dorado Promise. Among the goals of the $50 million initiative were to develop, retain and attract talent to the city, which would stimulate the economy and enhance the quality of the city. Among the initial reactions to the Promise was the passing of a school millage increase — the first in 32 years — to construct a new high school. Since its inception, nearly 1,500 students have received Promise scholarship funding. Asked why Murphy Oil Corporation decided to fund the Promise, Murphy’s Chairman of the Board Claiborne Deming said, “Education is the one thing you can provide people that can permanently change their lives.”
The Pittsburgh Promise — which would grow into the largest city-based scholarship program of its kind — is launched with former Steelers running back Franco Harris as its chairman. The goals of the program included promoting school reform, investing in the region’s workforce and raising $250 million to see that the work gets done. The Promise got an extraordinary $100 million challenge grant from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center — the city’s largest employer — and has raised about 75 percent of its goal.
The first gathering of PromiseNet took place in Kalamazoo, Mich., in June with more than 200 attendees from 22 states. The agenda defined a Promise-type program as “a city or community where people are working together to provide or facilitate financial resources and support services to a substantial percentage of K-12 students to encourage high school graduation, college success and community economic vitality.”
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm signs into law the development of “Promise Zones” in the state’s most economically distressed cities. The goal would be a public-private partnership focused on a tuition-free path to at least an associate’s degree for the each child in those communities, which included Baldwin, Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Detroit, Hazel Park, Jackson, Lansing, Muskegon, Pontiac and Saginaw. “Promise Zones help Michigan achieve our two most important goals — diversifying our economy and doubling the number of college graduates in our state,” said Granholm. “Now, more than ever, communities need this powerful new tool to take charge of their economic futures.”
Yale University — with the launch of New Haven Promise — became the first university to provide primary scholarship funding for a city-wide program. The implementation began with a gradual introduction of the support. But now, with fully-funded scholars on campuses throughout Connecticut, the program is seeing that the average student attending an in-state public institution has tuition and fees completely covered by federal aid and Promise dollars. A growing number of New Haven public school students are both qualifying and accepting the scholarship. The driving force behind the New Haven Promise was 11-term mayor John DeStefano.
The La Crosse Promise began the first phase of its initiative with the launch of its Future Centers in city schools, designed specifically to prepare students for education beyond high school. The second phase will be to provide college funding as a method of attracting conscientious, education-minded, success-driven homebuyers to La Crosse by providing scholarships to families who construct new homes in targeted neighborhoods. This will not only reverse the decades-long trend of declining enrollment in the School District of La Crosse, but also rejuvenate the city.
It was a watershed year for the Promise movement as:
• Tennessee went Promise mad as a huge percentage of the state’s high school seniors signed up for the Tennessee Promise, which Gov. Bill Haslam proposed and guided into law. The Promise will use proceeds from the state lottery to provide residents with free tuition at community colleges and colleges of applied technology beginning in the fall of 2015.
• The Seattle Promise — a bold new initiative from the Seattle Central Foundation — was established to provide a full scholarship to every student at Seattle Central College who demonstrates financial need, enrolls full time and maintains a 3.0 grade-point average. By eliminating financial need as a barrier to paying tuition, the Seattle Promise will allow low-income Seattle students of all ages — not just recent high school graduates — to pursue a higher education.
• Billionaire Leon Cooperman — who founded the asset-management business at Goldman — established the Cooperman College Scholarship program for students in New Jersey’s Essex County, home to the City of Newark. The program will support academically talented, highly motivated students with financial need in their efforts to attain a four-year college degree. More than scholarship, programming will include mentoring and other resources to ease the transition to college.
• The College Bound Scholarship program — which has funded 1,300 students since 2006 — needed a new source of funding after its original gaming revenue agreement expired. The result makes Hammond, Ind., the first city in the nation to invest public dollars in raising the level, importance and performance of its student population and — in the process — secure the community’s bright future. In May an ordinance was signed extending the program for 12 years using money received from water rates through a contract with Illinois. Hammond residents do not pay anything into this program.
• Officials in Richmond, Calif., announced a $35-million, 10-year program to guarantee that every public school student who graduates from a city high school will receive full tuition to attend college. The program — spearheaded by city councilman Jael Myrick — is part of a $90 million package of community grants from Chevron Corporation in an agreement on the terms of a $1 billion upgrade to its Richmond oil refinery.
• More than 250 attendees from 20 states descended upon the first PromiseNet conference held on the East Coast. The signature event of the conference was the Cities of Promise Town Hall — moderated by American Education Television founder Jack Ford and held at the Yale School of Management. The first full multi-city case study and research session also took place. From the conference, this Cities of Promise website was born.
The Promise movement has hit the big time as President Barack Obama opened the New Year by announcing his college affordability program — dubbed America’s College Promise — in the Volunteer State (in a nod to the ballyhooed Tennessee Promise). His plan called for students to reach generous eligibility standards to qualify and to maintain a level of success in order to keep the scholarship. “I’d like to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who is willing to work for it,” President Obama said in a video shot in Air Force One. “It’s something we can accomplish and something that will train our work force so we can compete with anyone in the world,” he added.
By late summer, nine community colleges in eight states — most notably the Community College of Philadelphia and the Milwaukee Area Technical College — had announced new Promise-type programs on their own. President Obama also doubled down on his America’s College Promise, naming an advisory panel headed by Dr. Jill Biden and his former Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter (pictured). The community college free-tuition effort also took the name Heads Up America.
• LeBron James — perhaps the globe’s biggest name in sports — made a stunning announcement with his launch of Akron I Promise, which could send more than 2,000 students in his hometown to the University of Akron. James — who has often referred to himself as “just a kid from Akron” — felt this initiative would help young students see a brighter path for themselves.
• After a nearly year-long courtship, the Say Yes To Education foundation said yes to Guilford County in North Carolina, the county for both Greensboro and High Point. Founder George Weiss commented that after investigating more than 100 communities, there was no place with more enthusiasm for such programming than Guilford. And locally more than $30 million was raised before the announcement.