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 Rockford: At the Beginning of its Promise

10/25/2018 8:00 AM

​Imagine telling your friend or colleague in another town that all students who graduate from Rockford Public Schools get free college. Picture the impact of that statement. Communities that have place-based scholarships have been transformed by investing in their own children. These scholarships are typically called Promise Scholarships because communities make a promise to the children who live there. Lots of things start to happen in Promise communities. Graduation rates go up. Property values go up. Crime goes down. Students who never thought about going to college are able to envision it. Students who always knew they would go to college don't have to worry about crushing debt for years afterward. Companies choose that city for relocation because they know that such a place will attract employees. Citizens looking for new homes choose the Promise community instead of the town next door. It's a snowball of transformation. 

Rockford is at the beginning of its Promise. We partnered with Rock Valley College and Rockford University to fund five full scholarships in 2016, 10 scholarships in 2017 and 22 scholarships in 2018. Our ultimate vision is to make higher education free or debt-free for any student living in Rockford city limits. The funding guidelines will develop as the Promise grows. 

There are several dozen Promise communities around the country, and they all operate a little bit differently based on the needs and funding in their city. For example, Kalamazoo​ guarantees a full ride to every graduate who is accepted to a partnering college or university. Baldwin, Mich., a much smaller town, gives students $5,000 per year to use as they wish for further education. There are versions of Promise Scholarships in Pittsburgh and Akron, Ohio, and even the Chicago suburbs. Promise scholarships are funded in various ways including large, private donors, business partnerships and grassroots community funding.

The Promise Scholarship program does three things. No. 1: It helps young people get more education, which experts agree is important in today's rapidly advancing society. Making higher education or skills training possible for everyone shifts the culture of expectation for young people. They progress through school knowing that many options are available to them. This is reinforced by the recent creation of Career Academies​ in RPS 205 schools. No. 2: A Promise program raises the educational attainment level of a community, which in turn attracts businesses looking for a prepared workforce. A Harvard study found that a community's skill composition is one of the highest predictors of urban growth. No. 3: Promise programs lure residents into the Promise zone to take advantage of the scholarship – which increases tax revenue and puts emphasis on education. Promise programs are not just about the students who receive the scholarships; – they are about the community as well. 

We believe this program can contribute to transforming Rockford into a first-choice community of the midwest. You can learn more at ​

2018 Rockford Promise scholarship recipients
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