(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Muskegon Area Promise officials received official approval from the Michigan Department of Treasury in late September for its Muskegon Area Intermediate School District’s Promise Zone Development Plan.
After meeting required state law standards, the Muskegon Area Promise Zone Authority can move forward with providing scholarships for high school graduates to obtain an associate’s degree or its equivalent at Muskegon Community College or Baker College of Muskegon.
John Severson, superintendent at MAISD, said the significance of the approval is the opportunity to help kids with their educational future and their careers.
“We are creating a cultural change, and while we believe we have a number of programs that are very positive in supporting career and college development, this is truly a game-changer,” said Severson. “We are going to start the communication of this at a very young age with parents and children that we want them all to have this opportunity to be part of the Promise.”
The Muskegon Area Promise development plan is required by the state to authorize the zone and ultimately secure one-half the growth of the State Education Tax after two years of using privately funded awards to students through the program.
The plan also details how the program will launch in Muskegon Heights PSA, Holton Public and Muskegon Public School districts for the first two years before expanding throughout the entire county by the third year.
“You have to reside within the boundaries of Muskegon Area Intermediate School District and you have to also graduate with a 3.5 GPA from a qualifying high school,” said Severson. “Baker and MCC are the two (partnering) schools, and it is for two years. It also includes some money for books, so it is a great start. We believe this will help a number of students get a great start and then they can transfer to a four-year university.”
Eligible students who are awarded Promise scholarships will receive financial aid for up to the cost of tuition, books and fees for 32 credits per year for two years; they also are required to comply with MCC or Baker College of Muskegon’s academic standards.
During the first phase of the program for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 year, the scholarship awards will be 100 percent funded for students; the second phase, beginning in 2016-2017, will be based on length of enrollment, since the program will be county-wide. Students who attended MAISD for four years of high school will receive 100 percent funding; those who enrolled for three years will earn 75 percent of overall funding; those who attended for two years will receive 50 percent; and students who attended for their senior year only will receive 25 percent.
Funding for the scholarship program will come from a variety of sources, such as large and small public donors from the Muskegon County community through an active Go Fund Me account, major gifts from private donors, corporate and foundation investments, and federal or state financial aid available to Muskegon students, according to the development plan.
To kick off the program, Severson said about $107,000 will be needed for the first two years and up to $900,000 to complete the phase-in option by 2017, when every district in the county would participate.
“To really get it going, we are looking to get that $107,000 and see if we can get as many funders as possible in the mix, as fast as possible,” said Severson. “We really would like to see everybody be a part of this Promise. That probably is one of the greatest things anyone could do is to contribute to the future of our kids. There are some funders behind the scenes that are really going to get this started.”
The Muskegon Area Promise Scholarship Development Plan indicates the total required funding for scholarship awards for the first two years of the program is $107,900; funding for the first five years will reach $1.1 million based on an analysis that assumes at least 37 percent of students plan to attend either MCC or Baker College and annual tuition is $4,050.
Beginning fall 2017, the county would be able to use Student Education Tax captured funds to help sustain the program. It is estimated more than $498,000 would be transferred to the Promise Zone in 2017 and about $751,900 would be transferred in 2018, according to the development plan.
Severson said the program not only invests in the education of students but also supports economic development in helping communities grow their own talent and provide opportunities to move local organizations forward.
“With a Promise, the population and economic activity grows, students become more serious about high school and their grades improve. Students are more likely to enroll and persist in college, and it is truly a game-changer for our entire area, for our whole county,” said Severson. “A number of these Promises are only for one city; we are talking about a whole county, and that has great capacity to improve outcomes for our region.”