Though fewer students applied for New Haven Promise scholarships this year compared to 2011, the program saw a jump in students both qualifying for and accepting scholarships, causing administrators to conclude that a “college-going culture” is gaining traction in the Elm City public schools.

New Haven Promise, the Yale-funded college scholarship program for New Haven high schoolers, accepts applications in the spring and reviews them during the summer to determine which students qualify for awards as they begin college. In this year’s pool, administrators said that 171 students qualified for scholarships and 123 accepted the awards, which can be used only at in-state institutions. In 2011, the program’s 150 students in the program’s inaugural applicant pool qualified for scholarships and 115 accepted them. The 14 percent rise in scholarship money doled out demonstrates that the program is beginning to make good on its promise to boost the college aspirations of New Haven students.

“I believe we are seeing real progress in creating aspirations of college in our students and we are growing the number of Promise scholarship recipients,” said Reggie Mayo, the city’s schools superintendent. “Our students face unique challenges and we have hard work ahead to achieve our goal of making sure every student is academically prepared and financially able to go to college. We’ll work hard and we’ll get there.”

The program’s better numbers this summer followed what some school officials considered a disappointing dip in applications last April — 351 students applied last spring compared to 371 students the year before. But city and program administrators said the number of students who actually enroll in college with the help of the scholarships is a more important metric for the program’s success.

Patricia Melton ’82, who was appointed executive director of Promise on June 25, said the numbers show a positive trend but stressed that the program is still “very much a startup.”

Will Ginsberg, CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, which finances Promise’s administrative costs, said the dip in applications could be attributed to waning media coverage of the program since it was announced in fall 2010. Betsy Yagla, the communications and research coordinator for New Haven Promise, added that in the program’s first year, every high school senior was given a paper application to fill out, and many students did so instinctively. But in the second year, she said, students had to take the initiative to apply because applications were only available online.

Ginsberg said this year’s applicant pool was likely more qualified because students had more time to prepare for their applications.

“These students that we just accepted were juniors in high school when Promise was launched, so they had a year and a half to get their grades and such up to qualifications whereas students in the first applicant pool had six months,” Ginsberg said.

As Promise gears up for its third application cycle, Melton said program officials are working on several systemic changes to encourage and support students’ college ambitions. She added that as the number of students on Promise scholarships continues to grow, those recipients can begin to share the knowledge of how they succeeded with students in the grades below them. Melton said program officials will also distribute “pledge forms” to high school seniors in the fall, where students can pledge to strive for good grades.

Over the past year, Promise has distributed more than $93,000 to students in tuition money through its first-year 115 scholarships. Melton said program officials are still calculating the total cost of the second round of scholarships.