Actually, it’s no pipe dream. The reality is that some cities stand to benefit from local programs that pay for the college education of their high school students, if they attend nearby public universities or community colleges.
Janice Brown, former superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools, pioneered The Kalamazoo Promise in 2005 with a startling announcement to the community: that anonymous donors were promising to foot the bill for every student who graduated from the district’s high schools.
That dream-come-true message predictably brought tears to parents’ eyes, especially those who might not otherwise have been able to send their offspring to an institution of higher learning. Their children now had a brighter future and a chance to make something of themselves with a college degree in hand.
The Kalamazoo Promise is universal to graduates of KPS who have been in the district for at least the four years of high school. The minimum benefit is 65 percent; full scholarships are awarded to students who have attended Kalamazoo schools since kindergarten and graduated there. No regard is given to family income level, students’ grades or their disciplinary/criminal records, making TKP the most inclusive scholarship program in the country.
The benefits of universal college scholarship programs include greatly improved college graduation rates, educated job applicants and local retention of college-educated students. College graduates usually pay more taxes, have high employment rates and are less likely to use social service programs; they are also more likely to volunteer and be involved in community activities.
“I think of The Kalamazoo Promise as a transformation of students and the community,” said Brown, adding that Promise scholarships have been established in other cities as well.
“In the last 10 years, more than 40 cities have developed Promise-like programs, fashioned in some way like TKP. The two after us were the El Dorado Promise in Arkansas and the Pittsburg Promise. We’re a close group and get together frequently to share ideas. We call ourselves Promise-Net and hold our meetings every year in Kalamazoo.” Currently executive director emeritus of The
Kalamazoo Promise and the initiative’s trustee, Brown has been a teacher, consultant, principal, visiting professor, state administrator and central office administrator. She was named the Michigan Superintendent of the Year and received the national ATHENA Leadership Award, the Women of Achievement and the Glass Ceiling Award for outstanding leadership. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and New York Times have all featured her as have national TV broadcasts “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “The Katie Couric Show” and CNN.
“I worked exclusively with the donors during the development of the Promise,” said Brown. “Executive Director Von Washington Jr., worked for Kalamazoo Public Schools prior to coming to the Promise as principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. He’s a fabulous community man and is always a child advocate. He was the principal of K Central when President Obama made his first high school speech ever to Kalamazoo Central High School grads.”
The Tennessee Promise
The Tennessee Promise operates with three partnering organizations — tnAchieves, the Ayers Foundation and the Regional Economic Development Initiative. According to Jackie Hartman, director of operations of tnAchieves, her organization facilitates all the nonfinancial components to the program — such as volunteer mentoring, community service and the required team meetings.
The mission of tnAchieves is to increase higher education for Tennessee high school students by providing last-dollar scholarship with mentor guidance, which means that it will cover tuition and fees not covered by Pell grants, the Hope scholarship or state student assistance funds.
“One of our favorite Memphis students is Cesar Sanchez,” said Hartman. “He’s a first-generation student from Memphis who is currently pursuing an automotive technology degree at Southwest Tennessee Community College. Born in California to a single mother, Cesar began working at age 14 to provide additional financial support. He says he never ‘saw himself in college until Tennessee Promise.’”
Sanchez, who is beginning his second year this August, is grateful to his volunteer mentor.
“I would especially like to thank Ms. Lynn Smith, my mentor, for pushing me forward because she could see it in me; and also because she didn’t mind helping me, including her patience answering all those questions I had to ask her,” said Sanchez.
The Pittsburgh Promise
Lauren Bachorski, director of communications of The Pittsburgh Promise, offered her view on why and under what circumstance a city should get involved in promoting college to its kids.
“Central to the work of The Pittsburgh Promise is promoting academic success and encouraging our students and their communities to dream big and work hard toward high aspirations and hope,” said Bachorski. “A post-secondary educated community is essential to ensure the prosperous future of our cities. While it is the job of our public school systems to ensure that students graduate ready to pursue a post-secondary education, cities should do whatever they can to promote a positive post-secondary culture in their communities.”
Since the program’s inception, high school graduation rates in Pittsburgh Public Schools have risen from 63 percent in 2007 to 74 percent in 2014. “We hope to see these rates grow to 95 percent by 2028,” said Bachorski.
“There are so many individual students who have great careers now — I often see them about town,” said Brown. “They’re teachers, scientists, in medical schools, wind turbine experts, marketing experts, engineers, tradesmen and trades women; one is a scientist for NASA specializing in Mars research. They come from all walks of life.
“The most significant statement, which I hear often, is ‘The Promise has changed my life.’ I call the Promise the hope of it all. Students in Kalamazoo Public Schools have changed their goals and dreams because of the Promise. In my opinion, we are changing a community culture, along with individual Promise Scholars’ views of themselves … There’s a story every day.”
The Pittsburgh Promise: more details
“The Promise provides scholarships to Pittsburgh’s city students in an endeavor to not only strengthen the city, but the region as a whole,” said Lauren Bachorski, Pittsburgh Promise director of communications. “We believe that a region is only as strong as the city at the heart of that region, and a city can only thrive if its public school system is excelling. We also believe that education can transform the lives of individual students.
“Since our launch in 2008, The Pittsburgh Promise has been successful in meeting the challenge of providing scholarships to over 6,400 urban youth and empowering them to envision and achieve a promising future. An example of this is a young man named Shakir, who attended the University of Pittsburgh with a Promise scholarship and graduated with a degree in information technology. This was especially significant for his family because Shakir’s brother, who attended college before The Promise was established, was unable to finish his degree as a result of financial hardship. Shakir now lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and child and works at PPG Industries.
Pittsburgh Promise operates a number of workforce developments initiatives that connect Promise scholars to local employers:
An annual high-touch networking event that connects scholars to available internships and jobs at over 70 participating companies.
Early Promise funds given to high school students who pursue career and technical education credits while they are still in high school. This program underscores the fact that a high school diploma is just not enough, but a four-year degree is not always necessary. This workforce development initiative aligns with the demands of employers so the region’s manufacturing, energy, health and other growth sectors have well-trained workers who can contribute to their success and the region’s economic vitality.
EXECUTIVE SCHOLARS & EXECUTIVE EXPERIENCE:
Pittsburgh Promise facilitates connections between employers and high school students, as well as Promise scholarship recipients. The Executive Scholars program builds a relationship between high-performing Promise scholars and Promise corporate donors. This program creates a named scholarship for companies or individuals that support The Promise at a minimum level of $1 million. Executive Experience matches high school seniors at Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy with field-based projects offered by local employers. Executive Experience helps students develop real-world skills and provides an authentic work experience in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.