University President Richard Levin and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. stood on the stage of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School on College Street Tuesday morning to announce a joint initiative that will provide an opportunity for New Haven public school students to attend college without paying tuition.
With state and local officials in tow, Levin and DeStefano announced the establishment of New Haven Promise, a scholarship program primarily funded by Yale that guarantees New Haven public school students who meet certain performance standards a full ride to any state college or university in Connecticut. In his speech, Levin told a crowd that included freshmen from several city high schools that Yale has agreed to support the mayor’s education reform efforts by giving students a financial incentive to perform in high school: Students are eligible for the scholarship if they are residents of New Haven and maintain a 3.0 grade point average throughout high school and a 2.5 in college. They must also have an attendance rate of at least 90 percent, complete 40 hours of community service before they graduate and not be expelled.
“If you do your part, and you work hard and excel in school, we’ll do our part to make sure you have the resources you need to achieve your full potential,” Levin said.
New Haven Promise, which will be administered by the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, will start at 25 percent funding for current high school seniors and will reach full funding when current freshmen graduate. City officials and educators have praised it as a tool in promoting college enrollment among graduates of the city’s public high schools, which currently stands at about 50 percent.
Starting with current high school freshmen who meet the eligibility requirements, the program will pay for 100 percent of tuition each year for those attending a state college or university. In-state tuition is about $8,000 at the University of Connecticut and $3,500 for members of the Connecticut State University System. The program will also pay up to $2,500 to students whose tuition is covered under other scholarships and to students who will attend private colleges in Connecticut, including Yale.
The announcement, preceded by a press release calling it “the most significant announcement ever to be made in New Haven,” was also the first occasion for Democratic governor-elect Dan Malloy to publicly discuss a topic of statewide importance after last week’s highly disputed gubernatorial race. Malloy took the opportunity to speak about structural problems in the state’s economy that have prevented Connecticut from “taking our share of national economic growth.”
New Haven Promise, he said, represents a commitment to ensuring that an educated workforce will be available for the jobs that will be critical to the state’s future prosperity.
“Getting it right in New Haven sets the stage for a reinvigorated state of Connecticut,” Malloy said.
In an interview Monday, Levin said negotiations for Yale to support New Haven Promise began about a year ago, shortly after New Haven’s teachers’ union agreed to a new contract. The new contract represented a breakthrough in school reform that Levin said was unique in the state. The mayor, he said, felt that instituting New Haven Promise was an essential supplement to his reform efforts in the city’s public schools, known as School Change.
At a press conference after the event, Levin said the University expects to be contributing at a rate of $4 million annually after seven years. The financial commitment is “totally new money,” Levin said, and comes at a time of increased budgetary constraints for the University.
The University has so far only committed to paying for the first four classes graduating from the New Haven Public Schools. Afterward, the program will be renewed each year for incoming freshmen provided that the program accomplishes its mission, Levin said.
He added that the program reflects Yale’s own approach to admissions.
“At Yale, we admit students for academic and personal promise, regardless of their ability to pay,” he said. “This program is a natural extension of that philosophy.”
There are currently about 20 similar scholarship programs in the nation, with Kalamazoo, Mich., in particular serving as a model for New Haven. Kalamazoo Promise guarantees 100 percent tuition for Kalamazoo students who enroll in a state college or university and maintain a 2.0 GPA while there.
“This is not a handout — you will have to work hard to earn your grades,” DeStefano told the nearly 200 high school freshmen in attendance before asking them, “Guys, can we do this?”
The students responded with a resounding “Yes.”
Ward 1 Alderman Michael Jones ’11 said he was glad the University is willing to step up despite limited resources and added that Yale’s investment in New Haven’s public school students represented awareness that the fates of the University and the city are intertwined.
“The university we love cannot be great if it is not located in a great city,” Jones said.
The city has launched a website, ournewhaven.org, which will serve to communicate with the public about School Change and New Haven Promise.