Harper president tried free tuition program at his last school

Updated 3/29/2015 7:23 AM

Tim Zoyac's mom drove a school bus, his dad worked in a warehouse, and neither went to college.

He made above average grades and was involved in 13 of the 19 extracurricular clubs at his high school, but Zoyac still stressed about the next, logical step for a student like him. How would his family pay for college?


"I knew I wanted to better myself," he said.

He found his opportunity in a School Counts! scholarship at Cumberland County College in Vineland, New Jersey. The brainchild of then-president Ken Ender, the program offers free tuition for high school students with, among other things, grades of C or better and a stellar attendance record.

Ender is now bringing that model, unique in the Chicago suburbs, to Harper College in Palatine.

McHenry County College tried awarding free tuition to select high school graduates in 2009. But that program, funded by private benefactors, fell apart, overwhelmed by higher-than-expected enrollment and lower-than-expected success, with nearly 250 students missing the minimum 2.0 GPA mark after their first semester.

The difference at Harper, officials say, are partnerships with businesses and high schools, to make sure students are prepared for college on the front end and see career opportunities after graduation.

Harper's announcement comes as Chicago's community colleges launch a free tuition program this fall for Chicago Public School graduates who test into college-level math and English.

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And it follows President Obama's recent proposal for a national program. But a Republican-led Congress would have to agree to spend $60 billion over a decade to cover three quarters of the plan's cost, and in Illinois, state lawmakers would have to find funding for the other quarter, both huge hurdles.

Zoyac, meanwhile, made ample use of the opportunity he got from Ender's initiative.

Now 25, he has earned associate, bachelor and master's degrees. And he's the director of an after-school program helping students boost their math and language art scores in a New Jersey public school system.

On the job, he lives by two mottos he says he learned through School Counts!

"Being 15 minutes early is being on time," he says.

And: "Nothing is handed to you. You have to take charge of your own success."

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