While the notion of college affordability is already gaining national attention in the run for the White House, the idea of expanding opportunities and promising programs is also a hot topic on the local scene.
On Wednesday at the University of Akron, First Lady Michelle Obama will join NBA superstar LeBron James at an event focused on the importance of post-secondary education. Mrs. Obama will speak about her Reach Higher initiative, which encourages students to aim beyond a high school diploma, to an audience that will be largely impacted by James’ Akron I Promise Network, which has partnered with the University to provide a free college education to as many as 2,300 students enrolled in the program.
And, of course, Promise is seeping into both state and local politics. The Bangor Daily News ran an editorial earlier this month advocating for a promise of higher education to low-income students with the goal of raising Maine’s lagging college degree attainment rate. “If policymakers have decided Maine can afford to send surplus state funds to an income tax relief account, tap future liquor revenues in order to lower the income tax and forfeit $16 million in tax credits to bankroll a closed mill, surely they can find a way to make a critical investment in Maine people that will yield dividends,” it concluded.
In Adrian, Mich., a construction project manager named Kirk Valentine is running for mayor on a platform that includes a promise for his city. “I am thinking, if elected, about approaching the citizens to see if they would be interested in making a City Charter amendment and creating the Adrian Promise,” he told The Daily Telegram. “I would like to pattern it after the Kalamazoo Promise. It would be a fund that would create scholarships for Adrian High School students that reside in the city limits, attended their last 6 years in the Adrian School District and are working towards their higher education goals. Obviously it would not create a full-ride situation like the Kalamazoo Promise, but I think it would create an amount that would be helpful in their future endeavors. In turn it may encourage families to live inside the city limits and attend our schools. I believe this venture could have great potential.”
And down in South Florida, Miami-Dade College President Eduardo Padron is lobbying for the funding of a statewide Promise program. “We should seize this moment and work across party lines to get this done in our state as well,” he said in reference to programs in Tennessee and Oregon. “We should create a Florida Promise that can build on existing programs and encourage the potential in all of our students.”
Cities of Promise has often referred to the broad range of scholarship-centric initiatives as “the Promise movement.” And hasn’t every social movement in modern history pushed forward with the establishment of an identifiable face?
So a question for those in education circles is this: Will LeBron James — the global icon who just committed more than $50 million to pay for college scholarships for Akron students — become the “Face of Promise?”
One could reasonably argue that he already is. His announcement came on Friday afternoon and within 24 hours coverage came from a broad range of media — from CNN to ESPN, from Time Magazine to TMZ, from Essence to the Grio, from the Washington Post to the Chicago Tribune to USA Today, and from Fortune to Mashable. His donation is one of the biggest individual commitments in Promise history.
But yet another credible argument would be, “let’s just wait and see.” There is no question of his amazing reach — primarily as an 11-time NBA All-Star with five straight trips to the NBA Finals. He is also a well-known pitchman for enormous companies and Judd Apatow recently called him a “weirdly good actor” after his performance in “Trainwreck.”
His ability to draw attention to the Promise movement would be unparalleled. But will he leverage his gift to his hometown, its students and its largest university to bring attention to programs outside of Akron? Will his focus on his hometown spawn similar programs from other celebrities?
Boy, do we hope so. We’ll just wait and see.
The Promise movement welcomed an enormous star to the fold yesterday as LeBron James announced that he has partnered with the University of Akron to provide four-year scholarships to 1,100 qualified students from his “I Promise” program.
The award would cover tuition and fees at the University and the total commitment could be more than $40 million.
Calling himself “just a kid from Akron,” James told FOX Sports that that was the reason he was funding these scholarships. “These students have big dreams, and I’m happy to do everything I can to help them get there,” he said. “They’re going to have to earn it, but I’m excited to see what these kids can accomplish knowing that college is in their futures.”
The complete formula for receiving the scholarship is still being finalized by the University and the LeBron James Family Foundation. Among the expectations of qualifiers will be the graduation from an Akron public high school, testing standards and a community service obligation.
“It means so much because, as a kid growing up in the inner city and a lot of African-American kids, you don’t really think past high school,” said James, who bypassed college to jump to the NBA. “You don’t really know your future. You hear high school all the time, and you graduate high school and then you never think past that because either it’s not possible or your family’s not financially stable to even be able to support a kid going to college.”
The University of Akron will also be renaming its education department in honor of James. Beginning in 2021, the graduates of the program will have earned degrees from the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education.
It should also be noted that a former NBA player frequently compared to James — Magic Johnson — has been an enthusiastic fundraiser for the Lansing Promise in his Michigan hometown.