About 55 percent of high schoolers continue in Harper tuition program
Just more than half the 4,625 high school freshmen who entered a program to earn free tuition at Harper College met the first year's requirements to continue in the program as sophomores.
Most of the 45 percent who didn't make the cut to continue didn't complete the five hours of community service the program required.
Of Harper's feeder districts, 29 percent of Northwest Suburban High School District 214 students, 27 percent of Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 students and 15 percent of Barrington High School students didn't meet the community service requirement.
Harper launched the Promise Program in March 2015 amid national concern about college affordability. Promise students can't miss more than five days of school in the second half of their freshman year, nine days in sophomore year, eight in junior year and seven in their senior year. The students also had to maintain a minimum "C" average as freshmen.
The minimum grade-point average progressively increases to 2.3 on a 4.0 scale and 3.3 on a 5.0 scale by students' senior year. Community service hours start at five freshmen year, and incrementally increase to 20 by senior year.
Harper College President Ken Ender said the first-year success rate was in line with expectations. Harper expects to lose another half of the now 2,540 high school sophomores in the program by the end of this school year. After that, the retention rate should be higher.
Ender said the Promise Program's community service component lets employers know potential employees are invested in the community.
Buffalo Grove High School sophomore Grace Gayhart said volunteering was a breeze. Grace, who plays the viola, guitar and ukulele and enjoys painting, volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House. She teaches children going through cancer treatment how to play the instruments she plays.
Lori Gayhart, Grace's mother, has always emphasized the importance of community service.
"Everyone deserves to be happy, and if music and art makes people happy, I'm happy to help out with that," Grace said.
For the students who did not complete the Promise Program's community service hours, it likely wasn't because their high schools didn't offer opportunities or promote volunteer options.
Last school year, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 sent emails reminding students in the Promise program to complete their community service hours, district spokesman Tom Petersen said.
District officials met with students who didn't fulfill the requirement and asked them why that was the case.
Excuses included "I forgot," "I turned in the form late," "I needed more reminders" and "I couldn't find a place to volunteer," Petersen said.
The district plans to send students more reminders this school year, and use those who didn't complete their hours as an example for this year's freshmen class.
Barrington High School has a staff member whose full responsibility is to coordinate student volunteer work, Barrington Area Unit District 220 spokeswoman Morgan Delack said.
While the student volunteer coordinator promotes the opportunities, it is up to Promise Scholars to make sure they get the community service hours in.
"Just like any other scholarship program, students have to show responsibility and accountability as adults," Morgan said.
District 214 uses VolunteerMatch, which allows students to choose a volunteer activity that matches the career cluster they have chosen.
"Additionally, all of our schools have community service clubs that give back to the area," District 214 spokesman Jennifer Delgado said.
Despite students' failure to complete the hours, Michelé Smith, Harper associate provost, says program criteria will not change.
"We hope to learn where might be opportunities for us to communicate more clearly," Smith said.
• The Harper College Educational Foundation is raising money to pay the cost of free education for students successfully completing the Promise program. Information on how to help is at http://goforward.harpercollege.edu/foundation/index.php.