Hook ‘Em Horns


Add the University of Texas to the ever-growing list of colleges and universities who are branding scholarship initiatives intended to attract high-performing, low-income students.

This program — called Texas Advance — will provide nearly 1,000 scholarships to in-state students worth $20,000 over four years to allow further opportunities for students and provide a more diverse campus.

Straight from the UT News Bureau:

“Making our campus as accessible as possible to students of all backgrounds is extremely important, and Texas Advance is designed to ensure we are helping the students who need it most,” said David Laude, senior vice provost of enrollment and curriculum services.

In total, students can earn up to $15,000 per year when Texas Advance is combined with available Pell and TEXAS Grants, which is enough to cover the cost of tuition, books and fees at UT Austin. Additionally, Texas Advance students are admitted to their first-choice colleges within the university.

Many universities across the country are doing more to address the needs of low-income and first-generation students. A few examples include The Carolina Covenant at the University of North Carolina, the High Achieving Involved Leaders at the University of Michigan, the William & Mary Promise and the Rutgers Future Scholars.

At Cities of Promise, we applaud any and every effort to remove the fiscal peril for high-performing students from low-income backgrounds.

A Promise Restrained


By Brett Hoover

In early November the nation’s Promise programs will convene in Kalamazoo, Mich., for PromiseNet 2015 and among the events will be a 10th anniversary celebration gala of the ground-breaking Kalamazoo Promise.

But early November will also be the 50th anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which ushered in a national promise in the form of the forerunner to what would become known as the Pell Grant. That program — named for the late Claiborne Pell, a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island — has been a major factor in the ability of students from lower-income households to attend and graduate from college.

Yet for the last 20 years the most at-risk haven’t been eligible to tap into the funds. The Violent Crimes Control and Law Enforcement Act passed by Congress in 1994 wiped out Pell Grants for the incarcerated. The early 1990s saw new spikes in violent crime in the U.S. and the comprehensive act, signed into law by Bill Clinton, was a “get-tough-on-crime” reaction.

Vivian Nixon and Glenn Martin recently co-authored a plea for the Promise of Pell in our prison system. Published on the website of the Department of Education, Nixon and Martin wrote, “This research clearly demonstrates that access to higher education is actually a boon for public safety; it drives down recidivism rates, improves the lives of incarcerated students and returning citizens, and improves the lives of their families and communities.”

In an age when the U.S. has more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities, this deserves the attention of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. All across the South, more people live behind bars than on campuses.

The Pell Grant — established to provide an opportunity — has made the country a better place. A promise provides greater outcomes than a penalty.

Brett Hoover — who formerly served as the Associate Director of the Ivy League — is a co-founder of Cities of Promise.

Finishing Big More Important Than Starting Big


Here at Cities of Promise not a week goes by without an inquiry a week from somewhere new. Someone reaching out to better understand what it takes to start a Promise program. And the first concern is always, how can we pay for it?

While it is great to have a fabulously wealthy individual, organization or company bestow a huge amount of seed money for a Promise program, it is hardly a requirement.

It is possible to gather a relatively small amount and partner with a college and company to leverage more benefit. And then build a structure for students to take advantage of the funds available through PELL grants and local scholarships to make college affordable. If a pilot program can be created, it could be the first step toward bigger donors, bigger dollars and bigger impact.

That’s the initial vision of the folks in Richmond, Va., who attended PromiseNet 2014 in New Haven, Conn. It will start with Future Centers in city schools to serve as an “on-ramp” for a larger goal of a Promise program. Starting with forms and financial literacy, RVA Future hopes to make tuition scholarships to community college available in 2017.

“We need to say to students and families: ‘This path is real. It’s available. And it’s available for you. Not for someone else. For you.’ They have to believe that. Once they believe that, it creates a demand for improvement at all levels,” said Dr. Thad Williamson, director of the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building.

Tina Griego of Richmond’s Style Weekly, an alternative news source, hit the nail on its economic head when she wrote, “[RVA Future] will depend upon Richmond’s white economic power structure — its donor class — to build the scholarship fund, acting upon what it knows to be true: Richmond cannot continue to hemorrhage middle-class families as soon as the middle-school years hit and expect to reach to its full economic potential.”

If cities fail to adapt to changing demographics, they could simply be doomed. The Greensboro, N.C., community is recognizing that and isn’t waiting to start small. Officials have raised $9 million already this year to gain the support and resources of Say Yes To Education, which has Promise initiatives in Syracuse and Buffalo.

Back in Richmond — where six Fortune 500 companies are headquartered — school board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed, who has been helping to shape city’s educational future for about a year, said, “We need partners and, I’m going to be candid, we need to decide as a community whether we are going to support public education in this city or not. Are we going to put our money where our mouths are? This is a bridge we are building between the city and the school district.”

After all, their futures rely on one another.