Archive for November, 2010

Reflections on the New Haven Promise

Posted on November 10, 2010. Filed under: Kalamazoo Promise |

The New Haven Promise, announced on November 9, 2010, has raised my hackles. It’s wonderful that Yale University (with the help of the local community foundation) is investing in the largely poor, black student body of New Haven Public Schools, but the program, in my opinion, does not warrant its “Promise” label.

The ournewhaven.org website describes the Promise this way: “Never again will our children fail to go to college for financial reasons. With Yale as primary donor, we promise full tuition for 18 in-state public colleges and partial tuition for 17 private colleges in CT.”

The site goes on to explain that to qualify for the New Haven Promise students must have a 3.0 GPA and 90% attendance in high school, along with a positive disciplinary record and community service.

This is not exactly the “college for all” premise of most Promise-type programs. In Kalamazoo, the only requirement for receiving a scholarship is a minimum of four years of enrollment and residency within the Kalamazoo Public Schools district and graduation from a district high school.

In response to my raised hackles, a good friend (and an intelligent one, too) wrote, “What is so wrong with having some minimum requirements for a free college education – to show that you are serious about your education and will try to make the most of a precious gift?” This is a natural response, but it fails to capture one of the most exciting elements of the Kalamazoo Promise and similar universal, or near-universal programs:

It is precisely those students who are not on a college track who stand to benefit the most from such a program. If a student who is struggling academically sees that post-secondary education is accessible to them — not just to their higher-achieving classmates — this provides a tremendous incentive to graduate from high school and go on to gain a certificate or associate’s degree — and possibly later a bachelor’s degree. Even a small measure of post-secondary attainment, such as completion of a short-term training program offered by a community college, will enhance that student’s employment options and earnings, not to mention strengthen the local workforce.

So here’s to sending smart, successful poor kids to college on Yale’s dime, but I’ll take the promise of college for all any day.

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