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Yale, New Haven Promise To Pay College Tuition for Students

Grace E. Merritt

November 09, 2010

For students like Ashley Moran, 14, the door to college magically opened Tuesday when the city and Yale University announced that they would pay college tuition for every New Haven student who earns at least a B average.

"Without this, I wouldn't be able to go," said Moran, a freshman at the Cooperative Arts & Humanities Magnet High School who hopes to be the first in her family to go to college.

"I'm good at school, but my family they wouldn't be able to pay for me," she said.

Moran was among 250 freshmen gathered for an assembly at the school to announce the New Haven Promise program, put together by the mayor, the school superintendent and Yale University.

Yale has pledged $4 million each year through 2014 to fund program, which will pay the entire tuition, but not room and board, for New Haven public school students who attend a public college or university in Connecticut. The program will also offer $2,500 a year for students who attend a private college in state.

Students must be diligent to qualify for the program. They must maintain a 3.0 grade point average during high school, contribute 40 hours of community service, maintain a clean disciplinary record and have a 90 percent attendance rate.

"Now, this is not a giveaway program," Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in making the announcement. "You will have to work hard for your grades and stay focused on the positive."

Juan Velazquez, 15, a student in the audience, said the program will make a big difference in being able to afford college. Moreover, he appreciates the commitment.

"It shows that they do care about our education and I am going to college," Velazquez said.

Planning for the New Haven Promise program has taken nearly two years, a cornerstone of DeStefano's "School Change" initiative to develop a competitive workforce, reduce crime and increase homeownership.

It is modeled on the Kalamazoo Promise in Michigan, which gives full tuition scholarships to state universities and community colleges. The Michigan program, now in its fifth year, has been adopted by several other cities throughout the country, including Pittsburgh.

The New Haven program is not need-based and, in keeping with DeStefano's stance, will be open to undocumented immigrants. It is limited to New Haven residents, so any students who commute into the city to attend magnet schools will not qualify.

The Promise program is set to run from 2011 through 2025 and will be evaluated each year and tracked through a data system.

It will be phased in over the next four years. During that period, current freshmen will qualify for full tuition coverage, while sophomores will qualify for 75 percent, juniors for 50 percent and seniors for 25 percent. The program will be administered by the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.

Yale University President Richard Levin said the university's strength is linked to the community's strength, and the program builds upon the New Haven renaissance of the past two decades. The Promise program will ultimately help Yale because it will help prepare the city's future workforce.

Levin estimated that about 200 to 250 students will qualify for the program, a figure that he expects will grow. But besides going to college, he hopes it will help students remain at college as full-time students.

Although 83 percent of New Haven's high school seniors currently go on to two- or four-year colleges, only 30 percent remain in college after two years.

DeStefano said the program is aimed at parents, as well, and he urged them to rise to the challenge.

"More than anyone, parents must be invested and responsible for the success of their kids," DeStefano said. "I challenge you to instill in each of them the aspiration for a college education and our shared expectation that these kids, once given the tools, can and will succeed."

Alex Johnston, a member of the New Haven board of education and CEO of the school reform group ConnCAN, said the hope is that the program will dramatically decrease New Haven's dropout rate while increasing the number of college graduates.

DeStefano's office expects that the program will entice people to move to New Haven to take advantage of the program, possibly raising school enrollment.

In Kalamazoo, where 82 percent of eligible graduates have received the scholarship, public school enrollment increased by 25 percent. At the same time, math and reading test scores rose, the dropout rate decreased and the taxable value of houses increased, according to DeStefano's office.

Gov.-elect Dannel Malloy described the New Haven program as an extraordinary offer made in the midst of "the greatest recession of our lifetime." The Promise program sets the stage for a reinvigorated, entrepreneurial Connecticut, he said.

State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan called the program very promising and said it could be a model for the rest of the state.

"It's a very thoughtful program and is a tribute to the entire community. They have done an excellent job of galvanizing schools with the mayor and Yale University," McQuillan said. "It's just a delight to see that kind of partnering going on at a time when resources are so scarce."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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