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.

What Will Play In Peoria?

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A major challenge for the place-based scholarship initiative is the name — the Promise.

The slightest variance in the rules — if not to the benefit of the student — is seen as a broken promise, even if it is intended to strengthen the program and address sustainability for future generations.

Folks in Peoria — where the Peoria Promise is 100 percent donor funded — have grappled with this dilemma and come to a decision. Students attending Illinois Central College as a Promise scholar will need to prove themselves at the next level before funding kicks in.

In the past, like most such programs, the students were funded while enrolled, before the first final exam was taken. The Peoria Promise has adjusted its disbursement schedule. Students who qualify must now pay for that first semester out-of-pocket and wait for reimbursement once they’ve post a “C” average for the semester.

Dr. John Erwin, the president of ICC, told Marvis Herring of local FOX affiliate WMBD, “I think this is a consequence of the Peoria Promise Foundation looking at [its] donor base, listening to [its] donor base, and then believing that this is the best way that [it] can extend those dollars for a longer period of time and create accountability for the dollars. It definitely is a change. It’s definitely going to restrict it somewhat. There’s going to be fewer students using Peoria Promise.”

But Peoria Promise scholar Devyn Slick doesn’t believe it should be called “Promise” without a guarantee on the return of the funds.

This balance is a tough one. Getting the most out of donor funds might not allow for the widest opportunity, but generous opportunity might mean that there won’t be enough funds to sustain the endeavor.

It is hard to criticize any organization committed to making college affordable. Making adjustments and tweaks are often necessary as scholarship award initiatives can be forced to revisit missions, assess funding campaigns and strategies or recalculate budgets.

Cities of Promise looks to the Promise community for ideas and potential solutions for thorny issues. The comments are open if anyone has insight on how to balance the scales of funds and opportunities.