Promises Made, Promises Kept
It’s not often that an opportunity is offered to an entire community – an opportunity too good to turn down.
McHenry County College’s (MCC) Promise is just that. This community-wide, privately funded scholarship gives to McHenry County high school graduates 100 percent funding to get an education at MCC.
Interested students simply have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The applicants need to be a graduate from a MCC district high school and live in-district while attending MCC.
To continue the scholarship, they need to maintain a cumulative 2.0 GPA, complete a minimum of 16 volunteer service hours per semester and be enrolled and attend MCC full time as a credit student.
In this rough economic climate this is good news for many families. When the program was launched, high school guidance counselors supported the efforts because they knew this could be an opportunity for every student to go to college, without regard
McHenry County has about 3,000 high school graduates annually. This upcoming fall,1,600 of them will be full-time students attending MCC through the Promise program. Community colleges play an integral role in the educational system. They are staffed with adjunct faculty who are not heavily involved in research or publications. They are focused on teaching and connecting with the kids.
Significant private contributions were made to start up the program. Ongoing fund contributions will supplement the fund in order to support the Promise obligation over the long term. Over time, donations of any size will support these students. Some corporations give a set annual dollar amount while others create fundraising programs that contribute portions of sales, like Portraits for the Promise or Pampering for the Promise.
Many parents of the Promise recipients donate as well since they don’t have any tuition to pay. Some donors are families that have younger children – like fifth or sixth graders – that want this program to be around for their kids. MCC challenges the community at large to see how they might be able to provide for the Promise of the future.
What They’re Saying
McHenry County Living spoke to some Promise recipients and administrators; here is an overall view of what these parents, students and teachers expressed.
The overwhelming consensus is that the Promise program is fantastic in that it puts MCC, specifically, and junior colleges, generally, on the map more than they have ever been before. In the past, students often only went a junior college if they couldn’t get in somewhere else. That outlook has changed.
This program comes at a great time when the economy is hard on families, particularly those that have more than one child in college. Not only are the students excited about the opportunity to learn, they are excited with the prospect of coming out of college with no debt.
“I couldn’t be more thankful for this program,” according to one parent. “I would have found a way, but it would have been a struggle to send our son to college. He has his goals and I want him to achieve them. I want him to be successful in life. I want him to be able to say how proud he is of not only the community that he came from, but of his family and friends. It is hard. It is very hard, but we are thankful.”
One family we spoke with didn’t have the means to put money aside for their children’s college education. When the Promise scholarship came up, they seized the moment. “How many people do you meet everyday who are not doing the jobs that they want to do because opportunity wasn’t there for them?” one parent asked. “I want my children to have what I didn’t have. So for us, the Promise scholarship is a godsend. It helps out a lot because it gives our daughter the time to decide what she wants to do and to get a good education.”
Another family appreciated the opportunity to get an associate degree without having any student loans due upon completion. “If it wasn’t for MCC Promise, our son would have had tremendous student loans on his own,” another parent said. “I was a single mom for 10 years. I didn’t have money to put aside for college. My son knew that his education was going to depend on himself alone. I would be there to help him with whatever financial support I could. It has been a very tough road.”
A Perfect Fit
MCC can be a perfect fit for many reasons. Some students are not quite ready to leave home right after graduation; some have trouble taking the pre-college entrance tests; and others need more time to decide what curriculum direction to take.
Mostly, however, it’s because students can get earn an associate degree from a strong college or get all their general education credits and then transfer those credits to continue to a four-year institution.
Counselors help students map out their education. MCC also allows students to “try out” different career classes to get an idea of what they truly enjoy. There is no wasting money on classes just to test the waters.
As for the mandatory 16 hours of volunteer time every semester, volunteers are coordinated through the United Way; that way the college gets a report that the student completed the qualified work. There are a variety of programs to choose from, everything from animal control to roadside cleanup.
MCC is a community college that promises students a solid education. In return, the community is asking for a promise to give back to the community.
It’s a fair exchange. It gets the student more engaged with people in the county.
According to one parent, “The community service is just fantastic. There is an education that they get in addition to what they receive in the classroom. When some kids go away to college for four years they lose sight of their community back home. After many kids graduate from a university they want to go somewhere else. The volunteer hours will help the community and will also help the students know about what’s in their own my back yard. This is actually a pretty nice place to be.”
It’s not solely the students who win; the entire county receives benefits as well. After the students complete the volunteer work they are going to know this county better. When they’re planning their careers they will have some experience in different services and organizations that support the community. “They are giving us this free tuition so I think it is a good way to give back,” one student commented.
The wide diversity of curriculum at MCC enables students to choose from a grand palette. “Our daughter is not sure right now what she wants to do so that’s why this is such a great opportunity,” one parent explained. “She is going to be able to see a lot of different aspects. Plus with the volunteer work she is going to see a part of the real world and maybe start getting some ideas about vocations and avocations. They are going to say, ‘look at what somebody did for me.’ Then they can pay it forward and do it for others.”
The Ripple Effect
Let’s look at the support the Promise affords the economics of our county. Commercial businesses will benefit when these 1,600 students will spend money here in McHenry County.
These families may be able to live a little more comfortably without college tuition to pay and, therefore, obtain some household economic relief.
Due to the volunteer work, local volunteer organizations will be able to get more accomplished. As the program builds over the years, these benefits will grow exponentially. McHenry can enhance its community to continue to be a healthy, clean and friendly environment.
The Promise can make positive changes ripple throughout McHenry County.
The initial corporate and individual contributors bought into the Promise because they all had the same vision: to see the children of McHenry County succeed. They understood that it doesn’t take a lot to be able to give back because inevitably this bright, young generation will be the ones caring for our future.
Sidebar: Promise’s Big Impact
Mary Margaret Maule, McHenry County College/Shah Center’s Illinois Small Business Development Center Coordinator provides insight into how MCC’s Promise program supports and enhances our county’s businesses.
• Financial Strength – “Since MCC Promise provides a debt-free education, families can keep that money in the household budget and use it to care for their home and family. The community at large benefits due to the fact that money trickles down to local businesses.”
• Hometown Connection – “It’s a boon to the community to have natives stay and support their hometowns. If students gain their education in their hometowns there is a higher likelihood that they will remain here. It may be something as simple as taking classes at MCC for first responders like EMTs or firefighters. These educational programs are accessible.”
• Business Development – “When employers are looking to locate a facility or grow their businesses in McHenry, they are most interested in attracting local talent.”
• Volunteer Efforts – “The service work that the MCC students provide will free up man hours in community businesses. This will then allow these local businesses to free up their current employees to do other jobs. The structure of the program is a strong partnership with non-profits. We can fulfill so many more needs to the community through service projects.”
• Debt Reduction – “Think about having no large debt coming out of college. Many kids don’t think about servicing this debt. It’s easier to start a new career after college without having a heavy debt load.”
• Classroom Diversity – “The Promise program entices more students than who otherwise would have gone to MCC. This makes for a rich and diverse classroom.”
• Community Involvement – “For the betterment of our entire community, it’s important to invest in the Promise. If everyone steps in for even a small donation, we’ll see long-term sustainability.”