The two-year, countywide scholarship also attracted 241 new high school graduates. They joined the 174 returning students to bring the total number of Promise Scholars to 415. Officials say families will save more than $1 million this year alone.
Larry Hines of the Hines Corporation said he is pleased to see the program exceeding the expectations of local investors.
“Back in 2015, when my business and others provided the initial funds to get the Promise off the ground, we did not anticipate how fast it would grow and how big it would become,” said Hines.
Another investor, Jim Teets of ADAC Automotive said, “The kids have worked hard to earn the Promise and deserve our support and pride.”
Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Superintendent John Severson said the high numbers are a testament to the work of local schools, the high quality of the two local colleges, and the scholarship’s value to local families. In 2018, 27 percent — or 500 high school graduates — qualified for the Promise with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
Muskegon County is one of 15 established Promise Zones in Michigan making it eligible to capture a portion of the State Education Tax based on the growth of local property values. Over the last two years, the Promise has captured 1.3 million in tax dollars to fund scholarships. Severson is quick to point out that these dollars began flowing in 2017 because of the financial backing of businesses and community members.
“We had to have significant private funding in place before we could launch the Promise,” said Severson.
Scholarships are funded through a mix of private, corporate, and public investments. Hines Corporation, Nichols, ADAC Automotive and the Alcoa Foundation invested the first $100,000 level investments. These were followed closely with identical gifts from Quality Tool & Stamping, Verplank Trucking Company, the Dan & Sheryl Kuznar Family, and the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. A total of more than $1 million was raised within the first year.
“All of these resources work together to secure future scholarships and provide for sustainability,” Severson said. “Members of the 11-member Promise Zone Authority Board monitor the budget monthly to examine expenses and consider the need for additional donor support. We are always looking for new partners to position us to expand the scholarship and meet the increasing demand.”
The Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) was also instrumental in establishing the Promise. MCAN and other private funds paid for a “Dream Big” marketing campaign to reach preschool through high school students. “Our local schools used these tools to leverage the Promise to motivate students at every grade level to achieve at higher levels and become an active part of our area’s college going culture,” said Severson.
By 2025, 64 percent of all job postings will require a certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree, according to the W.E. Upjohn Institute. Currently only 31 percent of the local workforce has these types of certifications and degrees.
“The Promise is the game-changer that will get us closer to where we need to be,” said Severson.
A 2018 policy brief published by the W.E. Upjohn Institute stated, “Promise programs can increase school district enrollment, attach families more securely to communities, and create a virtuous circle of economic improvement that attracts new residents and business.”