Hope Chicago Aims to Scale Success of College Promise Movement

Its "place-based" model eschews GPA to reach historically underserved students. The model has seen success in boosting college attendance, and Hope Chicago wants to build on that.
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  • The Kalamazoo Promise, the first place-based scholarship promise program of its kind, increased the number of students enrolling in college within six months of their high school graduation.
  • Hope Chicago seeks to use place-based scholarships on a much wider scale.
  • Hope Chicago's model doesn't just cover tuition. It offers a gap-closing scholarship to both students and one parent or guardian per scholarship recipient.

As a Chicagoan who has served as a social studies teacher, principal, and CEO of the city's public schools, Janice K. Jackson, Ed.D., always hoped a College Promise program would find success in her community.

College Promise programs have been cropping up around the United States in the last two decades. They usually take the form of privately funded programs that offer blanket scholarships to public school students.

The Kalamazoo Promise, for instance, broke ground when it launched in 2005 in the Michigan city of 74,000 people. That program offers up to 100% of tuition for postsecondary education for students of Kalamazoo Public Schools. Similar promise programs have since launched in more than 30 communities, according to the Brookings Institution.

However, most of those programs were in smaller communities, Jackson said.

"You haven't really seen them happen in large urban cities, mainly because they're just so expensive, and cities are too big," Jackson said in an interview with BestColleges.

Now, Jackson is taking on the challenge of scaling the College Promise model for a much larger community — her Chicago community, which has the third-largest public school district in the country. And as CEO of Hope Chicago, she isn't just finding ways to pay college tuition and fees for students who attend Chicago public high schools, but also for one parent or guardian per student.

Hope Chicago last month announced partnerships with 23 Illinois colleges to support its first cohort. Earlier this year, the nonprofit startup made headlines when it announced it would not only provide college scholarship opportunities for the student body at five Chicago public high schools but also for one parent or guardian of each scholarship recipient.

The initiative intends to invest $1 billion in scholarships over the next decade with a focus on increasing college access, Jackson said.

"How do we have more open access, especially for people coming from historically marginalized communities?" Jackson said. "I count myself lucky because I think we're starting Hope Chicago in a very unique time where people are just much more open to that."

Scaling Success of College Promise Movement

Hope Chicago is launching with data and experience from two decades of College Promise programs in those smaller American communities.

The Kalamazoo Promise has proved extremely effective, according to a Brookings Institution analysis.

The think tank found that the program increased the number of Kalamazoo students enrolling in college within six months of graduating high school by 14%. The odds of students enrolling in a four-year college increased 34%.

Likewise, Brookings found that, as of six years after high school graduation, the program increased the number of students earning "any postsecondary credential" by 12 percentage points. And most of that increase is attributed to more students earning a bachelor's degree.

Likewise, Hope Chicago will build on the success of its founder, entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist Peter Kadens. This isn't the first multigenerational scholarship he's established.

Kadens' first "gap-closing" scholarship program is called the H.O.P.E. Scott Promise, and it offered multigenerational scholarships to 2020 graduates of Jesup W. Scott High School in Toledo, Ohio. The initiative has since morphed into HOPE Toledo to continue offering multigenerational scholarships, as well as fund access to preschools in the city.

There are more than 80 graduates of the Scott High School Class of 2020 who are enrolled in approximately 13 Ohio educational institutions, according to HOPE Toledo. Additionally, approximately 25% of those students have a parent pursuing higher education as well.

Hope Chicago offers scholarships to students who attend both 11th and 12th grades and graduate from one of Hope Chicago's partner high schools — and isn't tied to a student's GPA. Jackson said that the place-based aspect of the program will also help reach historically underserved students.

"Black and brown students who come from low-income backgrounds, oftentimes they have to be exceptional. Meaning they have to have exceptionally high GPAs and test scores in order to have access when that's not really the case for their white counterparts," she said.

Not basing scholarships on GPA is an important component of Hope Chicago, Martha Kanter, Ed.D., CEO of the national College Promise initiative, told BestColleges.

There are several hundred programs in the College Promise initiative at both the state and local level, explained Kanter, who was the U.S. under secretary of education from 2009-2013. Those programs represent a wide variety of models, sending students to both two-year and four-year institutions and funding different levels of college costs based on their resources.

She praised Hope Chicago's place-based model, noting that many students with lower incomes have to work during high school and don't have as much time to study as their peers.

"We say, historically, 'you go to college for two or four years and then you get a job,'" Kanter said. "That's not today."

A Model for Future College Promise Programs

Jackson said people might not have been receptive to an initiative like Hope Chicago a decade ago. But, she said, challenges brought on by the pandemic — as well as a nationwide conversation about college affordability — has presented an opportunity for such a program in Chicago.

"People are reassessing the cost of college, and that trend was accelerated during the pandemic," she said.

Hope Chicago expects to publish data this fall on how many students in its first cohort are enrolled in college, Jackson said. She's buoyed by the number of students she's seeing who previously weren't considering college but now are as a result of financial barriers being removed.

"That really proves our theory that finance is the biggest barrier to access to a high-quality higher education," she said, adding that the program aims to increase both college-going and degree-attainment.

Jackson said Hope Chicago benefited from seeing the success of other programs like the Kalamazoo Promise. But, she also hopes the new scholarship program, which pays for both tuition and other costs, will be a model for future programs.

"I think the most distinguishing factor is the two-generation model," Jackson said. "There isn't any research out there about what happens when you send a parent and a student back to school at the same time. I think we're going to learn a lot about the stickiness there, and I think it'll serve as a model for programs to come."