Mayor hopes to fund college for Elm City students

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. made a promise to New Haven’s public school students — one he says he will fulfill before the close of the year.

In his State of the City address Monday night, DeStefano said he plans to initiate a scholarship program for local high-achieving public school students to provide financial backing for college. In an interview with the News on Wednesday, DeStefano fleshed out this idea, saying that although the city remains unsure of where the funding will come from, he hopes to use scholarships to encourage local youths to finish their high school education.

“This program is a smart investment, and a clear reflection of our city’s values,” DeStefano said. “Wealth creation comes about through an investment in human capital.”

DeStefano’s “college education promise” plan would award scholarship money to students based on three criteria: academic achievement, behavior and residency. The scholarships will not be limited to a certain percentile of students, DeStefano said; any New Haven public school student who meets specific standards of grade performance and behavioral conduct will qualify for the scholarship, though that qualification threshold has not yet been established.

New Haven Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo did not return multiple requests for comment Thursday, but aldermen who heard about the program for the first time Monday night had a pressing question for the mayor: Where will the money come from?

Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield said he was excited by the idea of the program, though he maintained that he was dubious about how it would be funded.

“He must have something up his sleeve,” Goldfield said after DeStefano’s speech. “The mayor is a realistic guy, and he knows the city can’t pay for every student in the city to go to college.”

DeStefano said the city will use a fusion of funding sources for the scholarships, though all these sources have not yet been determined, he admitted. The program will likely be financed in part by a combination of funds from the Federal Pell Grant Program and partnerships with local universities, such as Gateway Community College.

Forty percent of graduating New Haven public school students go on to attend to Gateway Community College, DeStefano said, but not all of these students can afford the school’s tuition for the duration of the time it takes to obtain a degree.

“We want to make sure they can stay there once they get there,” DeStefano said.

Gateway Community College Spokeswoman Evelyn Gard said in an e-mail that she did not know any specifics about the suggested program, but she said this new city-sponsored program would be one of 79 scholarships offered by the school’s College Foundation.

DeStefano said the money awarded by the scholarship program would be granted on a sliding scale dependent upon years of residency: A student attending New Haven public schools since first grade would receive more money than a student who did not begin attending a local public school until eighth grade, he explained.

The highest amount that will be granted is the total tuition of the most expensive public institution in Connecticut, which is currently the University of Connecticut, DeStefano said. The scholarship will only provide money for tuition, not for room-and-board costs. The current cost of in-state tuition for the main campus of the University of Connecticut is $7,200 per year.

When DeStefano first discussed his plans for a city-sponsored scholarship program with the News in October, he was not clear on whether students could qualify for the scholarship if they were not United States citizens. Wednesday, City Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said in an e-mail that the program would be open to any student who lives in New Haven, as long as he meets the academic and behavioral guidelines.

This scholarship program is not the first time city officials have offered rewards to high-achieving public school students. Last November, DeStefano used funds from local nonprofits to provide 17 local students with new laptops. In December, DeStefano gave 20 high school students tickets to a Ne-Yo concert in honor of their academic improvement.

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