Rockford could pay college tuition for all graduates of its public schools for as little as $5.6 million a year, a study by the Upjohn Institute shows. The study is the first to put a price tag on such scholarships, which would be modeled on the highly successful Kalamazoo Promise program in Kalamazoo, Mich.
The $5.6 million cost is based on a second-donor or “middle-dollar” scenario. That means the scholarship would apply to college costs after federal and state grants are awarded. All recipients would be required to submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and complete their own applications to schools.
The study estimates costs in 2017, when students would be in college at all four class levels, freshman through senior. Key parameters for the study were:
- graduation from a Rockford public high school;
- residency and enrollment within the district for a minimum of four years;
- enrollment at a post-secondary public institution within Illinois;
- and use of Promise funding within six years of high school graduation, with deferments for military service.
A Promise scholarship program has the potential to raise the rates of post-secondary degrees, which is the best economic development tool. “Educational attainment is the North Star for communities,” RPS Deputy Superintendent Matt Vosberg said. More education correlates with higher property values, less crime and lower unemployment.The program could also boost enrollment in the Rockford Public Schools by at least 2.4 percent a year, the Upjohn study said. In Kalamazoo, public school enrollment saw growth of about 24 percent since the inception of the Promise in 2006. Families also stayed in the district that might have left before their children graduated high school.Although 61 percent of RPS graduates attend college, too many of them do not return to the community. A Promise scholarship program could change that, both by increasing local opportunities for education (at Rock Valley College and Rockford University) and making the community a destination for young people and young families.The study was commissioned by the district in conjunction with Rockford Promise, a not-for-profit organization with the goal of raising college attainment among RPS graduates. College for All is one of the district’s Readiness Rocks, our strategic goals. Location-based scholarships are possible because of the passage last year of Lincoln Promise Zone legislation, which allows city councils in Rockford, East St. Louis and Aurora to create local governing boards to set criteria for the program and solicit private funding for scholarships.