Editorial: Growing pains don't diminish success of Harper's earned-scholarship initiative
Harper College trustees are taking a close look at the school's 5-year-old Promise program to ensure that it is sustainable. That should not lead anyone to question, however, whether the free-tuition initiative is successful.
Indeed, it could be argued that the growing pains trustees want to head off are an indication of the effort's value and appeal.
When the program launched in 2015, officials -- including its architect. former Harper President Ken Ender -- were by no means certain that students would embrace the substantial commitment required to earn its benefits or that, if they did, they would stick to it for all four years of their high school career in order to reap them.
Students in three of Harper's feeder high school districts -- Northwest Suburban High School District 214, Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 -- are introduced to the program in eighth grade. In order to qualify, they must maintain a consistently high grade-point average throughout all four years of high school, adhere to strict attendance rules, graduate on time and perform specific levels of qualified community service every year.
This year, the school welcomed 480 Promise scholars who had accepted and met those challenges, an increase of more than 14% compared to the 421 in the program's freshman class of 2019. Officials now look forward to a day when 1,000 students take them up on the offer.
But they also can see that, at a cost of at least $1 million a year, sustaining that goal will soon strain the $20 million in private donations and school contributions supporting the program in the Harper College Educational Foundation.
Harper President Avis Proctor told our Chris Placek that next month, members of the foundation's board will start an in-depth review of options next week, including a new donor scholarship campaign. College trustees already are considering an adjustment regarding how certain classes qualify for credit hours, and an infusion of $1.4 million from the school could keep the effort healthy through 2029.
Beyond that, though, they may have to implement new or different criteria, including possibly basing eligibility on need or other conditions. Such structural changes are complex and require careful thought and management, so it's wise that officials are beginning the analysis early.
Whatever their ultimate decisions, the program deserves the energy and thought school leaders are putting into it. For not only does it make college more affordable at a time when the financial obligations of advanced education are increasingly burdensome, it also helps instill strong values of persistence and achievement in the students it touches and leads to valuable service work in our communities.
That is multidimensional success that ought to be encouraged -- and sustained.