Promise Gains Traction

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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.

lebron-michelleOn 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.”

No Waiting Necessary. Promise.

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We get inquiries. They come from everywhere — Utah, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Texas and many more. And there is a recurring theme from those in cities, big, mid-sized and small. “How can we get started when we don’t have a major funder?”

It goes against what some believe what Promise programs are, but I like to tell them that they don’t need money in hand to start a program. Folks in Ontario, Calif., are proof. In fact, that photo above is proof.

omsd-scholarThat’s one of the crowded FAFSA Workshops hosted by the Ontario-Montclair School District last year when the school system helped 611 families fill out the federal aid form. Given that 86 percent of the students in the district come from low-income households, that initiative probably generated about $2.5 million in scholar dollars.

But that’s not all that happens in the district. The Ontario-Montclair Promise Scholars program was founded as a three-school pilot program in 1999 with the goal of helping students be successful in a global society by increasing high school completion and college going rates.

The city — located just East of the Los Angeles County line — has been plagued by hopelessness, but the pilot program forged ahead, working with students and families in fifth grade and up to ensure awareness, aspiration and success.

For 10 years the program tracked those students, who had benefitted from existing and modified programs already in place. When James Q. Hammond came to OMSD as the new superintendent in 2010, he looked at the data and, in the name of social and educational justice, expanded the program to every district school.

There had always been a focus on PELL Grants for those eligible and children meeting the prerequisites of the program were guaranteed admission to nearby Chaffey Community College upon graduation, but the Class of 2016 will be the first to have additional need-based tuition assistance and options at other local colleges and universities. Executive Director Leslie Sorensen expects about 700 students to enroll.

The district’s partnership includes the Inland Empire United Way, the City of Ontario, its Chamber of Commerce and an array of businesses, non-profits and citizens. And all 2,200 fifth graders — the Class of 2023 — have a guaranteed place in college (Chaffey Community College, California State University-Bakersfield, California State University-San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona or University of La Verne) and years of preparation ahead to fulfill the dream.

You want to guess who’s been watching? The White House, that’s who. Just a few weeks ago, in honor of the celebration of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics’ 25th anniversary, the Ontario-Montclair Promise Scholars — who are about 90 percent Hispanic — were recognized as one of the nation’s “Bright Spots in Hispanic Education.”

And that was well-earned.

Looking Back At 2014

As we enter the final days of 2014, we look back at a significant year in the Promise movement as new Cities of Promise have emerged with innovative ways to fund scholarships and support students. Here’s a look back at some of the things that happened in the last 12 months:

cop-people-bill-haslam• Tennessee went Promise mad as a huge percentage of the state’s high school seniors signed up for the Tennessee Promise, which Gov. Bill Haslam proposed and guided into law. The Promise will use proceeds from the state lottery to provide residents with free tuition at community colleges and colleges of applied technology beginning in the fall of 2015.

The Seattle Promise — a bold new initiative from the Seattle Central Foundation — was established to provide a full scholarship to every student at Seattle Central College who demonstrates financial need, enrolls full time and maintains a 3.0 grade-point average. By eliminating financial need as a barrier to paying tuition, the Seattle Promise will allow low-income Seattle students of all ages — not just recent high school graduates — to pursue a higher education. Continue reading

White House Summit To Have Promise

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New Haven Promise Executive Director Patricia Melton will be participating in the White House’s College Opportunity Day of Action on Thursday with more than 300 university presidents and other leaders launching new initiatives to open university doors to more students.

“I am thrilled to get this opportunity, through our amazing partnership with Yale University and on behalf of New Haven Promise, to participate in this White House Summit and to learn and share new initiatives that came from the first Day of Action back in January,” said Melton. “When President Salovey reported that Promise received a shout out at the first Summit, it created excitement in our Promise community. Now we close out the year with a first-hand visit.” Continue reading