Who’s Promise Is It?


When a Promise program begins, there are all kinds of questions. Two of the most important ones are: “What are you trying to accomplish?” and “How can you ensure the money lasts?”

And while Promise scholarship dollars obviously benefit those who receive them, they can also be used to fortify a school system. Places like Kalamazoo, Mich., and New Haven, Conn., are quick to point out that enrollment in public schools have made a dramatic turn once a Promise is in place.

So last night in Richmond, Calif., the City Council was confronted with residents urging them to make Richmond Promise benefits available to charter and private school students. Those who were against a strict traditional public school element held signs and made pleas late into the evening.

Here’s one response — a single Promise program can’t do everything. What it can do is develop a culture and leave room for additional programs to be established by motivated individuals who feel the need to address a gap. The nation’s first Promise program — the Bernard Daly Scholarship Fund in Lake County, Ore. — began in 1922 and 18 years later others started a similar program focused on funding out-of-state students that the Daly Fund wouldn’t cover. Both programs still exist.

The issue hanging out there for the City Council, which has vowed to submit a final Richmond Promise Strategic Action Plan at its next meeting, is whether its Promise will be used as an incentive to bolster its public schools.

It’s a question that many places have faced, including down in Greensboro, N.C., where Say Yes To Education recently set up shop. Should a component of a Promise program’s mission be to uplift a city’s school system by investing in those who’ve invested in it?

The answer is not an easy one.

Investigate The Promise Investment

PromiseNet is heading back to Kalamazoo, Mich., and registration for the event — which will take place Nov. 10-12, 2015 — is now open.

pnwt-2015The early registration rate is $275 (though there is $50 per person reduction for those with groups of at least three). Those rates go up $25 per person starting Oct. 12. There is also a single-day rate of $175 for Nov. 11, which includes all-day programming followed by the Kalamazoo Promise 10th Anniversary Gala.

The kickoff event for Promise programs will be a luncheon featuring remarks from Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar and decorated Army combat veteran who has launched BridgeEdU. That initiative — which focuses on college completion and career placement — looks to reinvent the freshman year of college by providing a “softer on-ramp” to higher education. Moore has been well covered, including features on Meet the Press, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The View, MSNBC, NPR, USA Today and People Magazine. He also also hosts Beyond Belief on the Oprah Winfrey Network and serves as the executive producer and host of Coming Back with Wes Moore on PBS.

The breakout sessions will cover considerable ground, including research findings on the impact of selected Promise programs, discussion on how to begin with fundraising and managing a Promise program and a focus on students beyond enrollment and graduation from college. Click here for the full agenda.

This will be the seventh PromiseNet conference. Last year’s event in New Haven, Conn. — the first one held on the East Coast — attracted more than 100 organizations, including a dozen from California. The video above was produced by New Haven Promise and you can click here for a series of images from PromiseNet 2014.

Should ESPN Fund A Bristol Promise?


By Brett Hoover

When former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison this week, it was another blow to Bristol, Conn., a city of about 60,000 which sits about 20 miles west of the state capitol, Hartford.

Hernandez is not just a son of Bristol, he was both a prep star and honor student at Bristol Central High. Two years ago — just three weeks before the murder of which he would be convicted — he was given a Pop Warner Inspiration to Youth Award.

“He was Bristol’s golden boy. People had a lot of hopes and dreams on his shoulders,” J.R. Rusgrove, owner of the city’s Parkside Cafe, told Don Stacom of the Hartford Courant. “Some people are shocked. I think everybody is really sad.”

While the outside world has come to know Bristol as the home of ESPN, the self-appointed “World Wide Leader in Sports,” insiders must recognize that — despite the massive infusion of tax dollars from the network and its countless spinoffs — the former factory town is struggling with little sign of a turnaround.

While its minority and low-income student populations nearly tripled in the last 15 to 20 years, the school district’s workforce lacks the diversity of its learners. And in just the last seven years the district has experienced a double-digit percentage decrease in enrollment.

What does that mean for the next decade? Researchers from the University of Connecticut and officials from the school district disagree. Both recognize that enrollment will continue a downward trend, but the debate is simply its rapidity.

While ESPN’s sprawling campus with more than 4,000 employees has been a tremendous asset, not all of the attention has been positive. Some of ESPN’s best-known figures have been sarcastically critical of the city and the perception is that a significant number of employees swing through the empire’s gates to and from work, never stopping to support Bristol.

This is not to say that the corporate executives have not helped city officials improve the community. Not long ago, ESPN donated $1 million to the Bristol Boys & Girls Club and many employees do volunteer their time. Yet the question remains — is it enough?

Is it ESPN’s responsibility to make a real commitment to Bristol in the form of a Promise program which makes college affordable for those who achieve? Probably not. Would it be wise for ESPN to make that commitment to the place where it has continuously constructed its campus for more than three decades now? Surely.

Within the last year Forbes reported that ESPN’s value had eclipsed $50 billion. Located within a school district of fewer than 8,000 students, ESPN could easily fund a $1 million-a-year program similar to the one in nearby New Haven and another starting in Hartford in 2016.

After all, a $1 million gift from ESPN is equivalent to a man with $500 sparing a penny.

ADDENDUM (10:50 AM): A December 2013 New York Times story about ESPN indicated that the company has received more than a quarter-billion dollars in state tax breaks and credits little more than a decade, including “savings of about $15 million a year since the network successfully lobbied the state for a tax code change in 2000.”

Brett Hoover — who formerly served as the Associate Director of the Ivy League — convinced ESPN to bring its live College GameDay Show to an Ivy League venue, Harvard at Penn, in 2002. That show — which drew a record audience — opened the GameDay tour to the full spectrum of college football.

With Promise Comes A Trust


If you came up with a prioritized list of concerns for almost every Promise program or nearly everyone looking to start a Promise program, the top item — perhaps the top two or three — would be funding.

Last December, our own Patricia Melton wrote a story about college costs surpassing even lottery income in a number of states, forcing legislatures to reduce award amounts or tighten qualification standards. This morning, Inside Higher Ed published a story focused on sustainability of Promise programs nationwide and spoke to Melton about that piece.

As the Executive Director of New Haven Promise, she told Kaitlin Mulhere that “directors have to be wise stewards of money year to year, always on the lookout for fluctuations in economics, enrollment and even politics.”

Dr. Michelle Miller-Adams of the Upjohn Institute — who has helped several cities develop results-based Promise programs — added that it is wise to “caution people to underpromise and overdeliver.”

Dwindling state support can also impact Promise programs, whose guidelines are often devised within the financial framework of the time of the announcement without enough thought about the future. Less than a month ago, Arizona lawmakers simply gutted its largest community colleges. No Promise program in the nation could adequately react to such a seismic shift in the college affordability landscape. Thus Promise programs must be precise from the start to develop funding, programming and language that is sustainable.

Rodney Andrews — who focuses on the economics of education as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas — told Mulhere that failing to create sustainable revenue streams and mitigate factors beyond one’s control can lead to trouble.

“If not,” Andrews said. “You have to make some changes to the promise, which sort of defeats the purpose of making a promise.”