A Toledo promiseWritten by Jim Blue | | email@example.com
Editor’s Note: A video reading of this column may be viewed below.
In the middle of all the negative economic news, two local institutions of higher learning have offered students a leg up and have paved the way for a community-wide turnaround.
In a nutshell, here are the offers: The University of Toledo will give a full scholarship to any needy Toledo public school student with good grades. UT is offering the same deal to students from five other Ohio cities. And Owens Community College is offering a similar scholarship to TPS grads.
This is exactly the kind of investment that will attract good high school graduates to Toledo and encourage young public school students to study harder. No longer can students and their families complain that higher education is out of their reach.
But it is just a first step. And a town to our north shows how to do even more.
Last year I reported a story about a Kalamazoo, Mich., tuition guarantee. The “Kalamazoo Promise” is a truly ambitious program offering graduates from that city’s public schools a full ride at any of the state’s public universities.
Unlike the UT and Owens programs, the scholarships are offered by a small group of anonymous donors. The Kalamazoo program is not based on need or merit. The only eligibility requirement is that a student must graduate from the Kalamazoo public school system. The amount of the scholarship is based on how many years the student attends classes in the system.
I met Tajay Heywood as he prepared to graduate from Kalamazoo Central High School. His single, working mom, Jarita, had been losing sleep because she had no idea how she would pay for his college education. But Tajay came home from school one day and told Jarita that she didn’t need to worry anymore.
The district had just announced the Kalamazoo Promise. At first Jarita didn’t believe it. But as the details were made public in the media, she finally was able to relax. Tajay is now a chemistry major at Western Michigan.
His tuition and fees are completely paid for.
The largess of Kalamazoo’s anonymous donors is not charity. It is a rock-solid investment in the city’s economy. Its school system is the fastest-growing in the state. In the first year since the program was announced, the district’s student population grew 10 percent, and this after decades of declining enrollment.
Home sales and prices are up. Most of the graduates receiving scholarships are attending local colleges. The college attendance rates of black and white students have become more equitable. And “white flight” from the inner city has been reversed.
Certainly it’s not cheap. Kalamazoo, a much smaller district than Toledo, will spend something like $16 million a year on scholarships. But even bigger districts such as Pittsburgh and Denver are creating programs modeled on Kalamazoo’s. Davenport, Iowa, implemented a sales tax to help fund its program. It doesn’t have to take a group of anonymous donors.
We should applaud UT and Owens for taking the first courageous steps. But it’s not enough. We all should join this campaign to create a “Toledo Promise.”
For more information about the Kalamazoo Promise and about similar programs in other cities, visit the Web site www.kalamazoopromise.com.
E-mail columnist Jim Blue at firstname.lastname@example.org. A video version of this column is posted at www.toledofreepress.com.