Parents question Promise in-state requirement

While the New Haven Promise program has won praise from University and city officials for helping New Haven high school students fund their dreams of attending college, one program requirement has come under criticism from students and parents.

The Promise program will fund tuition for students attending in-state colleges, but those who qualify for the scholarship cannot use the funds to attend out-of-state colleges. Parents of New Haven students questioned whether this practice should continue at a September meeting of the Citywide Parent Leadership Team in Wilbur Cross High School.

“This is one of three or four questions that comes up every meeting,” said Patricia Melton, executive director of New Haven Promise.

The Promise program, funded entirely by Yale, offers two scholarships: the Promise Scholarship and the Passport to Promise. To qualify for the Promise Scholarship, students must fill out a pledge form their freshman year and meet academic and disciplinary standards throughout their time in high school. The Promise Scholarship is given to all who qualify and covers 100 percent of in-state public college tuition and $2,500 of in-state private school tuition. The Passport to Promise Scholarship is a competitive scholarship that awards $1,000 to 20 students whose GPA is between 2.5 and 2.99 and who go through an application and selection process.

In 2013, 203 students qualified for the Promise Scholarship, but only 168 accepted the scholarship. Those who did not accept the scholarship did so either because they decided to go out-of-state for college or because they decided to defer enrollment, Melton said.

Abbe Smith, communications director of New Haven Public Schools, indicated that the Promise Board of Directors would be the body “that would consider the question” of whether the program could be expanded to cover out-of-state colleges. The board of New Haven Promise is composed of five people, among whom are Yale President Peter Salovey and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.

However, the expansion of the Promise Scholarship is not currently in the works, as Melton said the Board of Directors is not considering allowing students to use the scholarship to pay for tuition in out-of-state colleges at the moment. She said that Promise is, at its essence, a “place-based scholarship.”

The New Haven Promise program was founded in 2011 and modeled after similar programs started throughout the country, the first of which was the Kalamazoo Promise program in Kalamazoo, Mich. Similar Promise initiatives exist in Pittsburgh and West Virginia. These and other place-based scholarships focus on promoting college attendance and improving the economic development of the area where the program is implemented.

“There are 14 Promise programs [in the United States]. Every single one has a [in-state] requirement,” Melton said. “The programs focus on improving the school district and economic growth.”

Expansion of the program to include students who choose to attend out-of-state colleges is opposed by at least one member of the Promise Board — DeStefano.

“One of the goals of Promise is to keep kids in state,” DeStefano said in a statement issued Sept. 16. “New Haven Promise is a benefit, not an entitlement. Keeping our talent local makes the most sense and is best for the future of New Haven.”

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