Schools to explore countywide college promise program
In diverse communities like those in Miami-Dade County, many youths struggle to gather enough financial backing to continue their education beyond high school.
College promise programs can mean a real opportunity for secondary level schooling for many facing the reality of today’s costly tuition.
Lawrence S. Feldman, a member of the school board for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, was successful in garnering board approval of his proposal to explore the possibility of establishing a countywide college promise type program.
At its Oct. 2 meeting, the board unanimously approved an item about the College & Post-Secondary Promise Program, proffered by Dr. Feldman.
The item authorizes the superintendent to convene a task force comprised of an essential cross-section of stakeholders representing business, philanthropic, educational, 501(c)(3) and governmental agencies and communities to determine the level of interest in and potential for establishing a college promise program.
College promise-type programs acknowledge that despite federal financial aid, grants and scholarships, many students are unable to afford costs associated with universities and trade type programs of post-secondary study.
Dr. Feldman said communities that have engaged in college promise initiatives believe in a shared moral obligation and responsibility to address solutions to these issues, committing themselves to collaboratively developing college promise programs, which leverage the resources and financial commitment of a cross-section of stakeholders in an accountable manner.
In announcing his new initiative, Dr. Feldman expressed pride in the school district.
Remarkable success has been achieved as a result of progressive and bold initiatives, allowing Miami-Dade County Public Schools to shine as the premiere urban school district in the nation, he said.
“An opportunity now exists to initiate the conversation and take the next logical step in our re-engineering of the public education design and build upon our community’s documented interest in workforce development, facilitating college access, and realizing philanthropic potential and endeavors,” he said.
In a detailed email to Miami Today, Dr. Feldman responded to questions and explained his vision for a helpful new program to open doors to the future for all those who desire that route.
There are many kinds of college promise programs. Generally, a promise program is a commitment to fund a college education for every eligible student, advancing on the path to earn a degree, a certificate, or credits.
Dr. Feldman said the more than 300 college promise programs nationwide vary from community to community based on the needs and decisions of those who initiated them.
Referring to the board’s approval of his proposal, Dr. Feldman wrote, “As you may see from the item’s action proposed, an initial task force would be convened to explore community interest. If interest dictates, a future task force (Phase II) would explore the design criteria that would determine the funding distribution methods and parameters.”
He was asked, does your proposal seek to gather money from the “cross-section of stakeholders” to fund a countywide college promise program?
“Yes, this is the path I hope would be taken for the long term economic sustainability of our community,” he said. “All sectors of our community benefit when we are able to grow and retain highly trained and qualified citizens. I would hope this undertaking would become a shared responsibility and philanthropic priority for all who stand to benefit.
“Having been born and raised here, I have seen this city evolve over the years, benefitting from the influx of cultures, arts, and languages and growing in its philanthropic potential. I believe the time is right to ask our business and philanthropic communities to contemplate an investment in our greatest asset – children,” Dr. Feldman wrote.
He said it will be up to the task force and stakeholders to inform the process and eventually build a program that meets the needs of this community.
“I would hope that we all would envision facilitating college enrollment and support services for the most fragile students and those aspiring to become first generation college graduates,” wrote Dr. Feldman.
“I would hope that we all wish to see college debt become a non-issue for young people and their families; I would hope this program would serve as a safety net for all of our students worrying about how much or how little they have reported on their FAFSA forms and how those numbers affect their ability to pay for a post-secondary education,” he said.
Dr. Feldman said whether it is college, military or a trade or certification program, “all of our students deserve not just to be encouraged and supported as they discover their path after high school, but to surrounded by a community that wishes to pave that road and clear it of obstacles.”
He said it’s his hope that a Miami-Dade County College Promise Program could aspire to do just that in an accountable, transparent and responsible way.
The task force, he said, will limit its initial scope and phased actionable goals to:
■Review national case studies, particularly programs featuring public school district collaborations, to familiarize themselves with varying designs and implementation models, and financial considerations of college promise-type programs.
■Based on data, analyze projected program needs and financial implications for either an established consensus of envisioned program design criteria or varying program designs as determined by the task force, which will be non-binding but serve as a benchmark to deliberate upon.
■Provide the school board with its findings and final recommendations, to include whether a followup phase/task force is advisable for future steps towards the development of a countywide college promise type program that meets the needs and desires of our high school graduates, by no later than the Dec. 11 board meeting.
One of the first and most widely referenced college promise programs was initiated in Kalamazoo, MI, in 2005. Since then, the Kalamazoo Promise program has disbursed $90 million in anonymously donated scholarship funds to graduating seniors in its high schools. Research has shown that benefits from this initiative include increased college enrollment and degree completion among students benefiting from the program when compared to school districts from across the state that have no program.
Dr. Feldman is a past chair of the school board, and past chair of the Council of the Great City Schools.