Community College: New & Free


Heads Up America — the awareness campaign for President Obama’s College Promise initiative — is being celebrated on community college campuses this week.

Here at Cities of Promise, we have pulled together a list of two-year college programs which are already in place to provide tuition assistance for its local student body.

Two-year colleges have been around since 1901, when Joliet Junior College in Illinois became a public college offering two years of programming. And now, envisioning college of tomorrow, U.S. News reports that 20 percent of the student bodies at some colleges already have bachelor’s degrees and are adding important job skills for the future.

The roster is deep. Among community college attendees have been astronaut Eileen Collins, businessmen Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, George Lucas and Ross Perot, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, Emmy Award winner Jim Lehrer, baseball Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Nolan Ryan, funnymen Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and Billy Crystal, singers Salt-N-Pepa, Faith Hill and Queen Latifah and an array of actors which include Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks and Gabrielle Union.

In explaining the history of community college, Time Magazine’s Sean Trainor recently wrote:

Clamoring for both physical and economic access to college learning at a moment when advanced education was becoming key to social mobility (sound familiar?), Americans of a populist persuasion were responsible for the egalitarian streak of the junior colleges that opened beginning in 1901.

Inexpensive, often publically funded, and open to a wider cross-section of Americans than many of their four-year counterparts, these junior colleges were celebrated as “people’s colleges.” Though a far cry from full inclusivity, these male-dominated, majority-white schools nevertheless catered to a broader swath of working-class Americans than nearly any other contemporary educational institution.

Cities of Promise stands in support of our nation’s community colleges and the Heads Up America movement.

A Return To The Promise?


By Patricia Melton

More than 60 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declared — in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision — that state laws allowing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The ruling — which was unanimous — stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Yet American schools are more segregated this fall that at any time since 1968. To illustrate the point, the nation’s top five populous cities — New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia — all have white populations of more than 40 percent. None of their public school systems, though, have white student bodies of more than 14 percent.

And in spite of the emerging trend of cities increasing its white population for the first time in years, Nikole Hannah-Jones — who writes investigative pieces for The New York Times Magazine — reports that “gentrification, it turns out, usually stops at the schoolhouse door.”

There are indications that this growing chasm is about to come under government scrutiny. Dr. John King — who has been picked to become the U.S. Secretary of Education after Arne Duncan’s recent departure — recently told attendees at a conference of the National Coalition on School Diversity, “I remain hopeful that there are opportunities in the reauthorization [of revised No Child Left Behind provisions] to specifically incentivize socioeconomic integration, to take steps that will improve the racial integration of our schools.”

“President Obama has been taking on issues toward the end of his term that he wouldn’t touch in earlier years. So to me, the moment is ripe for the administration to take some important steps on integration,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “You have a new secretary of education who is deeply committed to the issue. You have a president who appears willing to expend some political capital toward the end of his term to address issues that are important to him. And you have the backdrop of unrest in a number of segregated urban areas. There’s more focus on this issue than there has been in a long time.”

And all the metrics indicate that the time is just right.

Patricia Melton is the Executive Director of New Haven Promise

A New Step — The Prep Pact?


Dr. Mike Richards, the President of the College of Southern Nevada, recently called the Promise movement “the most exciting thing happening in American higher education right now.”

Well, we happen to agree, but it is also the most innovative way to incentivize students to see a different path. And while the Promise movement has seen an array of funding options — from business, foundations, universities and even tax programs — there is a new one that is already here.

Take a look at the Phoenix Pact, which makes it possible for graduates of North Lawndale College Prep — a free, open-enrollment, public charter school located on Chicago’s Westside — to go to colleges where they are most likely to succeed, rather than colleges they can afford.

Starting with the class that graduated in the spring of 2015, the Phoenix Pact is, as President Barack Obama is fond of saying, “available for those who work for it.” Recipients must have at least a 3.0 grade-point average at NLCP, enroll full-time at an approved “Success College,” qualify for full Pell grant funding and meet satisfactory academic progress in college.

Officials at North Lawndale have been very committed to identify those “Success Colleges,” where students like the ones who graduate from NLCP have stronger chances of completion.

When the Phoenix Pact was announced this summer, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who helped open the school nearly two decades ago, came back and told the audience:

“If you guys can start to prove there’s not just one amazing young person or one amazing teacher but systemically dozens of dozens of young people every single year (who) can graduate, and cannot just go to college but graduate from college on the back end, you start to let the nation know what’s possible. If you can create a model, the national implications are pretty big.”

Pretty big indeed.

More Fruit From The Seeds Of Promise


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.