Editorial: Harper's 'Promise' is worth students', parents' efforts

Harper College launched its "Promise" program a year and a half ago, guaranteeing two years of free college education to students who signed on as high school freshmen and maintained certain attendance, grade and community service standards. Just under 5,000 students in Harper's district saw this for the great deal it is and signed up. Almost half of them, unfortunately, have fallen out already.

Harper President Kenneth Ender told our Erin Hegarty that this is not unexpected; in fact, he said the number who didn't make the second year of the program - almost 2,100 - was about what officials expected. They expect half that number to drop out as sophomores before the die-hards settle in as juniors and seniors.

Let's hope they're wrong.

Sure, we all know how hard it is for 14- and 15-year-olds to look into the forever world of four years from now, so it's not productive to blame those 2,100 kids who couldn't stick to the requirements and keep their free education on track. But, parents surely can play a role in keeping them on track, ever supported by their high schools.

Let us repeat those words again so they can sink in: Free. Education.

When Harper launched its Promise, funded by the college and donors to its Educational Foundation to the tune of about $10 million, officials expressed concerns that the attendance requirement would be a particular obstacle for many students. Depending on their school year, students face elimination if they miss only seven to nine days.

But the stats from the program's first year showed that failing to complete a minimal community service requirement accounted for nearly half the eliminations. That's sad for two reasons - the lost tuition opportunity, of course, but also the lost benefit of good deeds in our communities.

Harper's Promise is a good idea on many levels - it instills discipline, encourages and rewards academic success, contributes to greater enrollment in higher education and, yes, adds to volunteerism in our communities. Maybe it's understandable that most young high school students will have a hard time sticking to the program, but, kids and parents, take a look at a year's tuition at any state university, even at a two-year school like Harper. You can wipe that slate entirely clean for two years just by showing up at school, maintaining a C average and doing a little service for your community.

Don't let the opportunity slip away. Keep your promise so Harper can keep its promise to you. And, hopefully, we'll watch as the success spreads to similar efforts at other schools around the suburbs and the state.

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