New Haven Promise kicking into gear

Since it was unveiled 15 months ago, the New Haven Promise program has begun to pay for New Haven students’ higher education.

Announced in November 2010, the Promise program awards college tuition scholarships to New Haven public high school graduates who meet certain academic and disciplinary standards and matriculate to an in-state institution. Over the past year, the program — primarily funded by Yale and administered by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven — has distributed over $93,000 to students in tuition money through 115 scholarships. Promise administrators said the program is poised to significantly boost its participation rate among New Haven students in the coming years and is making strides toward its goal of creating a “college-going culture” in New Haven’s schools.

“College credentials are a central component to success, and we are working to promote college aspirations early in New Haven kids,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said.

According to city officials and Promise administrators, New Haven Promise is currently paying tuition for 105 enrolled students at 16 different schools in Connecticut, including two at Yale, and efforts are underway to build participation in the coming years. Ten students who received the scholarships either deferred or decided to attend college out of state, forfeiting their scholarships.

“I am hoping [that] 250 kids qualify this year,” said Adriana Arreola, interim director for New Haven Promise. “Now that the scholarship is out there, the application is online and we’ve developed the program, we expect the numbers to go up.”

As part of the effort to increase Promise participation, she said, students are invited to sign a pledge form between ninth and 12th grade committing to strive for good grades, a strong school attendance rate and community service. Students who sign pledges are able to remain in communication with the Promise program and receive periodic newsletters with information such as volunteer opportunities, Arreola said.

In conjunction with New Haven Promise, College Summit — a national nonprofit that helps school districts prepare low-income students for the college application process — has also been offering classes in New Haven high schools including “College 101” and “financial awareness.”

But to achieve the “college-going culture” critical for the future workforce in the state and city, Arreola said students and families should be thinking about college before high school. To that end, she said, school administrators introduced “Pathway to Promise,” a program for preK-8 schools that is designed to adapt the skills that College Summit is teaching to a pre-high school setting, last fall. Yale-New Haven Hospital committed $500,000 annually for the next four years to fund this effort.

“We want to start at early childhood and put in place behaviors that make kids competitive for college and instill a logic that teaches kids to see the worth of a college education,” DeStefano said.

While Promise distributed approximately $93,000 in scholarship money this year, William Ginsberg, CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, said the scholarship awards will also grow because of the way the program is structured.

The Promise program is being implemented in stages — graduating seniors are eligible for scholarship money based on how long they have been in high school since the program’s announcement, Ginsberg said. Those who accepted the scholarship last year received 25 percent of the full award, this year’s seniors will be eligible for 50 percent, and next year’s seniors will be eligible for 75 percent before full funding kicks in the year after they graduate, he added.

Ginsberg said beyond distributing tuition money, Promise officials have worked to “build the machine” that will allow the program to grow.

“We’ve put in place mechanisms to monitor kids’ performance in schools and in college, get pledges signed, process scholarship applications, make payments to universities and determine what students are entitled to,” Ginsberg said. “These processes had to be built in the first year, and the staff did an excellent job of doing that.”

New Haven Promise was announced on Nov. 8 2010 at a ceremony at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School on Crown Street.

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