Providing young people the job skills they'll need to survive and the local economy with the workers it needs to thrive are among the purposes of Harper College's new Harper Promise program, the college's president told Northwest suburban business leaders Tuesday.
The program provides two years of tuition to students living in Harper's attendance area if they meet a set of criteria while in high school, including maintaining a minimum grade-point average, performing community service and limiting school absences.
Ken Ender, president of the Palatine-based community college, outlined the program Tuesday to members of the Schaumburg Business Association as part of his appeal for the local business community to partner with the college on Harper Promise.
The need for such a program is evident, he said, noting that the number of schools in Harper's boundaries with more than half their students on the federal free and reduced lunch program rose from six in 2003 to 30 in 2013.
With the economy now dictating that some college education is a virtual necessity -- but with college increasingly beyond the means of some -- it's never been more likely than now that Americans born into poverty will die in poverty, Ender said.
Harper Promise was created as one method of breaking the cycle, he added.
High school students from Palatine-Schaumburg District 211, Northwest Suburban District 214 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 are approached at the beginning of their freshman years and told they can enter consideration for the program if they beginning meeting five criteria from their second semesters onward. These criteria -- which can be summed up as having a work ethic -- include showing up, working hard, demonstrating quality, finishing what they start and giving back to the community.
"This is not free," Ender said. "We don't believe in free."
Those who meet the program's goals through four years of high school can attend Harper without paying tuition.
Funding for the program is not coming from taxpayers, but through donations. The program, which aims to have its first $10 million by 2019, already has collected $8.1 million.
What the community, particularly the business community, is getting in return is a workforce that can keep the local economy going, Ender said.
A first-generation college student himself, Ender reminisced that his parents were able to find jobs and live their American dream without the benefit of higher education.
"I'm here to tell you, those jobs ... that's gone!" he said.
Harper plans to partner with four-year colleges and local businesses to assist the program's alumni.
Business partners are asked, at a minimum, to commit to offering courtesy interviews without further obligation to those who have successfully completed the Harper Promise program, Ender said.