Editorial: We all benefit from programs like Harper's 'Promise'

  • Harper College officials, school superintendents, donors, parents and students met with the Daily Herald editorial board this week to discuss the progress of Harper's Promise Scholarship program.

      Harper College officials, school superintendents, donors, parents and students met with the Daily Herald editorial board this week to discuss the progress of Harper's Promise Scholarship program. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted2/10/2016 6:02 PM

Harper College still has a ways to go before it fully delivers on its promise of free tuition to any high school student who meets certain grade-point and attendance criteria. But the announcement this week that it has already come a long way toward meeting its goal reaffirms not just the commitment of this innovative program but its value.

In its inaugural year, Harper announced figures showing two-thirds of eligible high school freshmen signed up for the Promise Scholarship. That's no doubt a gratifying start for college officials promoting the program, but it still leaves plenty of room for what even they acknowledge should be near-universal participation.

 

After all, the Promise program doesn't require students who sign up to attend Harper. It merely guarantees that those who do sign up and meet the program's criteria will have a high-quality advanced educational opportunity at their disposal, free of charge, when they leave high school.

That can mean a lot to high school students and their families. It also can mean a lot to the community at large.

Our editorial board got a glimpse of that broader picture in a unique meeting this week with Harper officials, school superintendents, business partners, donors, parents and students.

School officials told us that already they are seeing marked improvement in school attendance that, though it's too early to be sure, may be attributable to the program.

Business representatives told us they're expecting higher-quality job candidates and more of them.

They all said they're working together more intimately and with sharper shared focus than ever before.

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These are all outcomes that benefit our region at large, not just Harper, not just the participating businesses, not just high schools or students or parents, but all of us who have a stake in a better-qualified local workforce and better-educated communities.

They are representative of the important role community colleges play, and reflect the growing influence these institutions are having on one of the most urgent issues of our time -- providing broad access to affordable, meaningful educational opportunities after high school.

Community Unit District 300 and Elgin Community College reinforced this contribution only weeks ago when they announced a partnership that can provide up to a year's worth of free ECC credits to high school students who take qualifying classes. Harper and other suburban high schools also operate other programs that encourage and enable students to get college credits while they're in high school.

Surely, the students and the institutions benefit, and families must value the potential relief from the burdensome costs of higher education.

But, as Martha Parham of the American Association of Community Colleges said in our story on Harper's announcement, such efforts actually produce "a win-win for the country as a whole."

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