Protecting The Promises

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At its best, the Promise movement attacks the opportunity gap. But to sustain a Promise program is hardly an easy task. By design, such a program motivates students to perform well academically thus a growing number are expected to meet the requirements each year. On top of that, there is no indication that increasing college costs will level off.

So Promise programs — perhaps the best intervention in attacking the opportunity gap — struggle to keep up. Most of the recent Promise news is focused on finance. Here’s a spin around the nation:

star-denverVoters in Denver, Colo., might be asked to take on responsibility of funding the Denver Scholarship Foundation. The proposal before the Denver City Council is a sales tax increase of 0.08 percent — less than a penny for a $10 purchase — which would generate about $10 million for the scholarship organization. One councilman reported that his constituency is asking why this has become a city responsibility, but a recent study uncovered a nine-fold return on money spent by the Denver Scholarship Foundation. That in a state that has been ranked 47th in the U.S. for higher education funding.

Known locally as UIC, the University of Illinois-Chicago recently stepped up to sweeten the pot for recipients of the Chicago Star Scholarship, which gives free community college tuition to high-performing city students. UIC has offered guaranteed admission and up to $5,000 in support for those who earn an associate’s degree through the program. And outspoken Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised to be knocking on the doors of others to talk about their “responsibility to the kids of Chicago.” Emanuel made it clear that he wants higher ed support and he wants it soon, saying, “It would be easy to step back, observe the problem, study the problem, have a couple papers written on the problem, have a symposium on the problem, discuss what people should do about the problem and then go for a break and have a cup of coffee.”

Down in Greensboro, N.C., where more than $25 million has been raised toward an endowment for a Say Yes To Education program, city officials were hardly unanimous in their support of the initiative. At issue? The leaders of the campaign did not reach out to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners until “the ninth inning,” according to the board chair. That county board is also displeased that the early discussion did not include the county’s charter school students, which is “significantly different than where [the Say Yes to Education] board thought we were headed,” according to Gene Chasin of Say Yes.

Two faculty members of the University of Pittsburgh penned an op-ed piece in the Post-Gazette that asked for a focus on state funding for higher education, instead of hand-wringing about recent changes to the Pittsburgh Promise. Lindsay Page and Jennifer Iriti wrote that the purchasing power of the Promise will decline in the face of a lack of support of higher education in the state. “As a community, we should celebrate and grow the gift of The Promise, but we also should seek to protect that gift by pushing Harrisburg to reinvest in public higher education,” the piece concluded. “Without such reinvestment, continued increases in the costs of higher education faced by families will do more to hinder access to the promise and opportunity of higher education than the recent scaling back of The Pittsburgh Promise.”

More Fruit From The Seeds Of Promise

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There is a Johnny Appleseed result that comes from the establishment of a Promise.

Kalamazoo Promise has hatched more than a dozen programs in the state of Michigan. Earlier this year Cities of Promise featured the Braddock Promise, which is an initiative following the lead of the nearby Pittsburgh Promise. New Haven Promise was the first of its kind in New England and Hartford will join the Promise Nation next year.

Now Illinois is a hot spot for Promise with Harper College announcing last week that its new Promise Scholarship will be serving public high school students in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago starting in 2019.

Chicago’s STAR Scholarship received a lot of attention in recent months when it was heavily cited during President Barack Obama’s push for America’s Promise, which would open up community college as an extension of high school.

But Illinois has also been home to two other community college Promise programs — one in Peoria and the other in Galesburg. And the Peoria Promise appears to be the model for the Harper College initiative.

A quick look at the perimeters show that the program will be rather inclusive as it relates to high school grades, but tight in its requirements for both attendance and community service. Once enrolled as a tuition-free scholar at Harper, there will still be service expectations as well as increasing minimums of grade-point success.

“A college credential has never been more crucial to success than in today’s 21st century economy,” Harper President Dr. Kenneth Ender said. “This program has the potential to positively impact not only deserving and motivated students, but the entire region by presenting employers with an educated and skilled workforce.”

The school’s board of trustees has set aside $5 million from the general fund and the school has also secured another $1 million in donations so far while Motorola Solutions Chairman & CEO Greg Brown and his wife, Anna, are chairing a campaign to raise $10 million to fund the program into the future.

Harper College — perhaps best known as the alma mater of Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin — is located in the Village of Palatine about 25 miles from downtown Chicago.

Looking Back At 2014

As we enter the final days of 2014, we look back at a significant year in the Promise movement as new Cities of Promise have emerged with innovative ways to fund scholarships and support students. Here’s a look back at some of the things that happened in the last 12 months:

cop-people-bill-haslam• 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. Continue reading