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Sunday, 24 November 2013 18:01

Colleges partner with GR Community Foundation on scholarship packages

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Incentives offered by four West Michigan colleges are helping make a college degree more of a reality for students attending Westwood Middle School and Harrison Park School.

Earlier this month, officials with Aquinas College, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University announced the creation of scholarship packages at their respective schools to support the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Challenge Scholars program.

The Challenge Scholars program, which begins with sixth grade students at Harrison Park School and Westwood Middle School, is designed to help students succeed in school, maintain good grades and behavior and eventually be accepted to college.

“We knew this was an area of the city where we could make a difference,” said Cris Kutzli, youth and education program director for the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “Both Harrison Park and Westwood feed into Union High School, which has faced challenges in the past with dropout rates and low student performance. The program will expand to Union High School when our first class of Challenge Scholars (the class of 2020) enters ninth grade.”

Harrison, on the city’s west side, was the first school to receive funding from the Challenge Scholars program in 2011. This year, the program was expanded to include Westwood.

Officials with GRCF said they anticipate investing $4.5 million in Harrison and other west side schools over the next decade.

So far the Grand Rapids Public Schools has received $900,000 to support the Challenge Scholars program.

Of the 934 students who attend Harrison, 96.7 percent qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch. MEAP reading scores at the school increased this year to 51.3 from 46.5 in 2012 while math scores decreased to 17.6 from 23.1 in 2012, according to the website SchoolDigger.com, which collects data on schools throughout the United States.

Of the 401 students who attend Westwood, 97.5 qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to SchoolDigger. MEAP reading scores this year for students at Westwood increased to 37.6 from 23.5 in 2012 and math scores also increased to 9.1 from 3.4 in 2012.

The monetary value of each scholarship will depend on the individual student and the school they choose to attend, Kutzli said.

“Because this program will continue in perpetuity, it’s difficult to put a dollar value on the packages. Our estimates indicate that the packages announced today will cover the cost of college for about 15 percent of Challenge Scholars students,” Kutzli said. “There is not an average per child amount established because of the number of variables involved: how much other aid a student might receive; costs from one institution to another; whether students pursue a certificate, two-year, or four-year degree; whether they live on-campus or off.”

GVSU will provide a minimum of $6,000 annually for any qualified graduate of this program, said Lynn “Chick” Blue, vice provost and dean of academic services and information technology for the university.

“It is expected that the students will be able to pursue their degrees with little to no debt,” Blue said. “That is the desire of the foundation and the university.”

Initially, all sixth graders at Harrison and Westwood will be invited to enroll for the Challenge Scholars program. From there, they need to continue to attend the two schools and Union High from sixth grade to 12th grade. 

“Very generally, they need to have good attendance, stay out of trouble, and do well enough in classes to be accepted to a college or university,” Kutzli said.

Area economic development officials maintain that a good job with good wages improves the quality of life and provides greater job stability, and they say an educated workforce is key to these outcomes.

“We know it takes a village to raise a child,” Steven C. Ender, president of GRCC, said in a statement. “The Challenge Scholars program provides the foundation for our community to work together to offer the guidance and support necessary for students to learn and grow, follow their dreams, and achieve success.”

Earlier this year, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation committed a total of $11 million to support The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo, a partnership of seven entities, including Southwest Michigan First, which is creating a framework for coordinating and expanding local initiatives related to The Kalamazoo Promise and other efforts to improve educational outcomes in Kalamazoo County.

Kutzli said on average, a college degree is worth about $1 million in added lifetime earnings, but the impact is about a lot more than money.

Partnerships such as those formed through the Challenge Scholars program are necessary because too few Michigan students are sufficiently prepared for college-level work, Blue said.

“Unfortunately, large urban schools struggle with this problem,” she said. “This program will become a model for other schools that wish to change the pattern. This program is poised to create a cohort of ‘college-ready’ Michigan students, which will benefit Grand Valley and every other higher education institution.”

Read 3495 times Last modified on Friday, 22 November 2013 14:06

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