Diplomas Count - June 5, 2014 - 15
EDUCATION WEEK JUNE 5, 2014
Diplomas Count > www.edweek.org/go/dc14
Laquetta Smith, right, hugs Lauryn
Scott in 2006 after Kalamazoo Central
High School's graduation. Ms. Scott's
class was the first to benefit from the
Kalamazoo Promise, which covers most tuition
costs for students in the Michigan district.
fect, but it was not large," she said.
What the researchers learned was that paying for specific
actions, such as giving 2nd graders $2 for every book
they read or for homework completion, yielded better
results than paying for end results, such as better test
scores. Student achievement is more likely to increase
when rewards are given for inputs to the educational
process rather than tying incentives to outputs-since
students don't know how to turn their excitement about
rewards into achievement, according to research by
Roland G. Fryer Jr., a professor of economics at Harvard.
Evolving 'Promise' Model
A college scholarship is becoming an increasingly
popular way to offer a long-range incentive to motivate
students. More than two dozen of these "Promise-type"
programs across the country are operating now. While
some are universal models that give free tuition to all,
more have merit requirements to qualify.
"There is a natural tendency to want to give money
to deserving kids. Who wants to give a scholarship to a
bad student?" said Michelle Miller-Adams, a research
fellow at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
in Kalamazoo, Mich., who has researched such programs.
As scholarship providers track the success-or lack
of success-among recipients, some are changing criteria
and adding support services to ensure that students
make the most of the opportunity.
Since 2006, the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship
has covered most of the tuition costs for public school
graduates at in-state public colleges or universities,
depending on how long the student has been a resident
of the 13,000-student district.
The offer can be used for up to 10 years, and nearly
85 percent of Kalamazoo graduates (two-thirds of
whom meet federal poverty guidelines) have taken
advantage of it.
Since the launch, district enrollment has grown
by more than 2,400 students and students also have
been suspended fewer days and are earning more
high school credits. Another study of the short-term
effects of the Kalamazoo Promise showed an increase
in the GPAs of African-American students.
While there have not been large changes in the fouryear
graduation rates, the five-year rate has risen from
73 percent in 2007 to 75 percent. From 2008 to 2013,
the dropout rate fell from 18 percent to 13 percent.
"Knowing that you can go to college makes a difference,"
said Bob Jorth, the executive director of the Kalamazoo
Promise scholarship program. "That's becoming
embedded in the culture."
Still, just half of all scholarship recipients finish a college
degree in six years. With only two cohorts to analyze,
Mr. Jorth said the program is still a work in progress. To
address the low completion rates, Kalamazoo Valley Community
College has invested more in support programs,
and Kalamazoo Promise tweaked its program to allow
students to attend part time. Those actions have improved
Kalamazoo students' achievement (as measured by
grades and progress) at the community college by about
20 percent since last year, said Mr. Jorth.
The scholarship program itself does not provide academic
help. However, the community has responded
with volunteer mentors and tutors, and the high school
has ramped up the academic rigor of its classes and
increased college-preparation resources for students.
Many of the Promise scholarship programs that
popped up after Kalamazoo's have made their scholarships
contingent on some measure of academic or
personal merit. For instance, the Pittsburgh Promise
requires a 2.5 GPA and a 90 percent attendance record.
The New Haven (Conn.) Promise set the bar
at a 3.0 GPA, along with attendance and communityservice
But not extending the scholarship to all has a price,
said Ms. Miller-Adams of Upjohn. Students who are
struggling in class and don't have money for college
may lose hope; a universal scholarship sets up high
expectations for the entire student body. When the
push is college for all, the school can expand advanced
courses and college counseling.
"Money brings down the most visible barrier to college,"
said Ms. Miller-Adams. "But then you see other
barriers behind it-academic, social-emotional readiness,
Indiana tried another approach with its 21st Century
Scholars Program, set up in 1990 as a college incentive
for students who couldn't otherwise afford it.
"It was a promise if you stay in high school and do the
work, you will be able to go to college. It was designed to
keep students out of trouble," said Mary Jane Michalak,
an associate commissioner in the division of financial
aid for the the state's higher education commission.
Students apply in the 7th or 8th grade, and, if they are
deemed income-eligible, the state agrees to cover tuition
expenses for four years at an Indiana public college or
university. Accepted students are asked to pledge to stay
on track through high school graduation and not use illegal
drugs or alcohol or commit a crime or delinquent act.
Although the program is popular, policymakers were
not pleased with the early results-just 15 percent of the
scholars were finishing a degree in four years.
To improve completion rates, the legislature in 2011
passed a law that requires students who receive the
scholarship to complete a program to help them plan,
prepare, and pay for college. Students must also maintain
a 2.5 GPA, rather than just a 2.0, and complete the
Free Application for Federal Student Aid to make sure
they are getting all aid for which their family qualifies
after the 21st Century grant.
"We started to change our focus from access to college
completion," said Ms. Michalak.
Oklahoma has also modified its Promise scholarship.
It raised income limits to expand eligibility, increased
the GPA to qualify from 2.0 to 2.5, and required students
to achieve an ACT score of 22 out of 36. The state also
started to let students in the program as early as 8th
grade if they qualify for the scholarship, instead of waiting
until high school, in the hopes of spurring them to
get serious about college preparation earlier, said Glen
D. Johnson, the chancellor of the Oklahoma board of regents
for higher education.
'Element of Certainty'
As a last-dollar scholarship, the Promise fills in the
gap of tuition for students from families who make
less than $50,000, with average awards of about
$3,000 a year, to attend a public two- or four-year
college in Oklahoma. To make sure students know
they can count on the money being there when they
graduate, the legislature in 2007 established permanent
funding for the scholarship in the state budget.
"This introduces an element of certainty early in a
student's life," said Mr. Johnson. "As early as middle
school, students make an assumption about whether
they have a shot at college or not."
Since 2008, the nonprofit Say Yes to Education Inc. has
worked to improve high school and college completion
with a commitment of free college tuition to children beginning
in kindergarten. There are also wraparound services
for children and families: academic support, health
care, financial services, and legal services. The districts
in Syracuse and Buffalo, N.Y., have embraced the model,
with other chapters emerging in Hartford, Conn.; New
York; and Philadelphia.
Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, the president of Say Yes, said
the early promise and communitywide support generates
energy to enable students to achieve the goal of college.
"Even though there may be financial aid at the end of the
rainbow, if you are growing up in poverty and have no experience
with college, it's not real to them. They look at the
sticker price and say, 'That's not for us,' " she said. Because
the district is so poor, Deborah A. Doyle, a middle school
teacher in Syracuse, said the scholarship "opens the eyes
for kids who may not have thought about it before." Ms.
Doyle, whose family qualifies for the Say Yes scholarship,
said the money allowed her three daughters to consider
private colleges and avoid substantial student debt.
Nationally, more than 75 percent of all students in
the Say Yes program graduated from high school, and
half finished a postsecondary degree.
In the District of Columbia this year, City Councilmember
David Catania has championed a new D.C.
Promise program using city funds to give students up
to $7,500 annually in last-dollar scholarships based on
economic need and extending eligibility to families earning
up to $215,000. Rather than setting GPA or behavior
requirements, the program would aim to remove all barriers
to access and be open to all graduates. It is awaiting
approval from Congress.
With any incentive program-whether a promise
scholarship or cash payments to students for classroom
performance-it's policymakers who need to be
convinced of the results.
"Symbols do matter. They get attention," said Mr. Sacerdote
of Dartmouth. "But if you simply promise money
with no hope of a college-preparatory culture, it would
be tough." I
Diplomas Count - June 5, 2014
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