Heads Up America: The Focus On Affordability Just Got Real

It’s an audacious plan — to basically change K-12 public education to K-14 — but President Barack Obama doubled down on his Heads Up America proposal of free community college last week. He first broached the American College Promise in January in his State of the Union address, but it was clear that the odds of a successful Congressional act to address a new $60 billion educational investment would be long. A Hail Mary pass plus a two-point conversion long.

But at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., on Wednesday he called education “the secret sauce to America’s success,” referred to “a Movement going on,” and unveiled an advisory board of educators, business and non-profits leaders and politicians who will study different models and spread the word about free tuition. The advisory board — chaired by Dr. Jill Biden — is available here.

“I’ve been focused on community colleges,” Obama said in his speech. “They are at the heart of the American dream. For every young person willing to work hard, I want community college to be as free and universal as high school. It’s easy for politicians to say young people are the future. But you’ve got to walk the walk. No kid should be priced out of a college education. No hardworking young person should be denied just because of where they started. You don’t have to necessarily go to a four-year degree to get a good job, but you need to have some specialized skills.”

This initiative has recently been formalized in Tennessee and Oregon and is being piloted in Minnesota. It has also been established by community college systems in places like Miami, Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia.

Threading the needle with an act of Congress is not required. Colleges, cities and states have already created incentives and motivations for students that are “willing to work for it” and there is significant federal money already out there. What’s needed is awareness, courage, will and additional funds to close the gaps.

President Obama and Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be speaking about college access and affordability on Monday at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa, as part of Duncan’s annual back-to-school bus tour. Without question, one of the topics will be the Department of Education’s new College Scoreboard, which is a massive collection of data regarding success, debt and income of those receiving financial aid or loans from the federal government. Click here for a fascinating piece on how the data was collected and prepared for public consumption.

Promise’s Big Bang Turns 10


Roz Wiggins of the Yale School of Management offered the title “The Big Bang” for a segment about the Kalamazoo Promise in her Cities of Promise town hall case study last November at PromiseNet.

“It wasn’t the first place-based scholarship, but Kalamazoo was the first program of its kind that made a citywide commitment and it caught the country’s attention,” she wrote.

That “Big Bang” occurred at a city board of education meeting on Nov. 10, 2005, and now folks in Kalamazoo have rolled out the activities in a yearlong celebration of its 10th anniversary. The Kalamazoo Promise — which expects to enroll about new 500 recipients each fall — has awarded more than $60 million in anonymously-funded scholarships, leading to more than 1,000 degrees.

“We may never know those donors’ names, but we know how they helped bring this community together and how you’ve embraced their Promise not just as a gift to be appreciated, but a responsibility to be fulfilled,” President Barack Obama told the 2010 graduating class of Kalamazoo Central High. “We know how they have helped inspire an entire generation of young people here in Kalamazoo to imagine a different future for themselves.”

Under the theme “The Promise We Keep,” the events leading up to a formal anniversary include a series of community conversations focused on the barriers which have kept Promise-eligible folks from utilizing the award, a downtown community celebration in August and a return of PromiseNet, the national conference which was established in Kalamazoo.

“We knew that The Promise was a gift that would change lives,” Von Washington Jr., executive director of Kalamazoo Promise community relations, told Alex Mitchell of the Kalamazoo Gazette. “What we’ve learned over the past decade is that it’s a gift that can transform a community, but only to the extent that the community steps forward to make sure The Promise is kept for everyone.”

White House Summit To Have Promise

New Haven Promise Executive Director Patricia Melton will be participating in the White House’s College Opportunity Day of Action on Thursday with more than 300 university presidents and other leaders launching new initiatives to open university doors to more students.

“I am thrilled to get this opportunity, through our amazing partnership with Yale University and on behalf of New Haven Promise, to participate in this White House Summit and to learn and share new initiatives that came from the first Day of Action back in January,” said Melton. “When President Salovey reported that Promise received a shout out at the first Summit, it created excitement in our Promise community. Now we close out the year with a first-hand visit.” Continue reading