Some 300 university presidents, non-profit leaders and corporate CEOs — including New Haven Promise Executive Director Patricia Melton — gathered at the White House yesterday to examine strategies for driving up college completion rates.
To attend the Education Opportunity Day of Action, universities, non-profits and corporations had to come with specific commitments in hand designed to “improve degree completion, sustain community collaborations that encourage college-going, train high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative and produce more STEM graduates with diverse backgrounds,” according to the White House.
“[The summit] really focused on strategies — what people are doing,” Melton said. “Talking about what are some of the challenges, but also what are some of the promising practices.”
To increase college readiness for more than 21,000 students in the Elm City, New Haven Promise has made four specific commitments. These include expanding the number of college campuses with New Haven Promise ambassadors from four to 10, heightening parent engagement by demanding they sign a pledge to support their children in applying to colleges and developing 50 new partnerships with nonprofit organizations to support college readiness.
Thursday’s summit came nearly a year after 140 university presidents — including University President Peter Salovey — gathered at the White House, where President Barack Obama challenged them to improve college accessibility. At that summit, then-National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling LAW ’85 singled out New Haven Promise as a successful program for improving college accessibility.
On Thursday, the event kicked off with an address from President Obama and also featured remarks from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a number of other White House staffers. In the afternoon, participants broke up into smaller panel discussions.
“Making sure more of our young people have access to higher education and can succeed and complete their work and get their degree — that has to be an American issue,” Obama said during his remarks.
According to Melton, New Haven Promise has worked to help expand the president’s goal of increasing college graduation rates since the scholarship’s inception. The New Haven Promise scholarship — which pays full tuition to any in-state public college or $2,000 towards any in-state private college — was established in 2011 and has been funded entirely by Yale.
In order to qualify for the scholarship, students must be New Haven residents, maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher throughout high school and 2.5 or higher in college. Additionally, the student must have a 90 percent or higher attendance rate, complete 40 hours of community service before graduation and not be expelled.
Former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. called the program an essential and appropriate extension of New Haven school reform. He added that he sees the scholarship as one of the key wealth creation and poverty reduction initiated within the city.
“One of the essential measures of school reform is looking to measure students’ success beyond high school,” DeStefano said.
Melton said that the presence of a New Haven representative at the event was a signal that both Yale and the city have deepened their commitments to both the scholarship and education since Salovey’s visit in January. The New Haven Promise organization’s major commitments to the scholarship lay in expanding outreach to parents and helping educate them on ways to prepare their children for college.
Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65 said that, if more students take advantage of New Haven Promise, then good progress has been made.
“It was clear from the beginning that school change would be necessary if all those who graduated from our schools would be ready to do well in college. We need to succeed at both objectives,” Alexander said.
Lily Engbith ’17, a current New Haven Promise scholar, said that while the scholarship is less of a financial boon to her family because she attends a private university, it symbolizes a connection to New Haven. However, for some of Engbith’s classmates, she said that the scholarship has been crucial in financing their college education.
In his remarks, Obama said over 2,000 colleges in America now waive application fees for low-income students.