Harper fulfills its promise to first 421 freshmen in free-tuition program
Arij Ahmed admits he sometimes feels left out knowing that many of his high school friends went away to college, and that he might not be getting the "true college experience."
But the Hoffman Estates High School graduate has to travel only 12 minutes down Roselle Road to get to his postsecondary school of choice, Harper College in Palatine.
It's where he says he doesn't have to sit in a crowded lecture hall of 500 people, he's been able to get involved with the college speech team, and when he comes home at night, he can enjoy Mom's home cooking.
And, it's free.
Ahmed is one of 421 freshmen who arrived to the Harper campus this fall knowing that as long as they continue to meet certain criteria, they'd be able to attend tuition-free for two years.
"I feel like I'm at peace," said Ahmed, who is studying finance and knows he's not paying tuition bills at a 4-year university.
Ahmed received free tuition through the Promise Scholarship program, which rewards students in the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Barrington Area Unit District 220 for keeping good attendance, maintaining a minimum grade-point average, performing community service and graduating on time.
On Thursday night, he had the opportunity to thank some of those who donated to the program during a college event billed "A Promise Fulfilled," marking the formal closeout of the initial fundraising campaign launched under former school President Ken Ender in 2015.
"As cheesy as it sounds, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't be up here right now," Ahmed told donors, board of trustees, Educational Foundation board members, high school superintendents and other supporters who gathered at Harper's Wojcik Conference Center.
Ender set an initial goal of securing $10 million for Promise: $5 million from Harper and $5 million to be raised through the Educational Foundation.
Today, the Promise endowment sits at $21 million: $13 million provided by the school and $8 million raised by the foundation.
For the Promise freshmen now finishing their first semester, Harper covered $613,000 in tuition costs -- a number that's expected to fluctuate from semester to semester depending on other scholarships students may receive and how many students enroll, officials say.
Harper officials say with the arrival of the first Promise cohort -- representing 6% of the 4,600 high school freshmen who signed up five years ago -- now is a good time to close out the initial fundraising push while broadening the foundation's reach in raising money for other scholarships.
But they say they'll continue to raise money for Promise, which they believe is a sustainable program.
"I'm a first-generation college student, and I know what a scholarship can do," said new college President Avis Proctor, who took over for Ender in July.
She said she received a full scholarship at the onset of her undergraduate studies.
"This resonates with me to know we have 421 students this semester and more to come," Proctor said. "It's transformational."