A small Michigan town is making headlines for a community scholarship program that aims to send every single high school graduate to college.
Baldwin, a rural community of about 1,200 in Lake County, has a program called the Baldwin Promise, which gives all high school graduates $5,000 per year towards a college degree regardless of their income or scholastic achievement.
The program was inspired by the Kalamazoo Promise. The town is also one of ten promise zones in Michigan in which some taxes that would go to the state are kept in the community as college funding for its residents.
Alec Wroblewski, who was part of the football team and the marching band in addition to being President of the National Honor Society before attending Eastern Michigan University, said:
Things did change in school. Kids started to want to go to college and the teachers knew that and then the kids started to realize, “We have to learn that to be ready for the harder classes in college.” That’s the biggest change here.
In Lake County, more than 25% of the residents live below the poverty line, and only 8.4% of those older than 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, writes Brian McVicar of MLive. In 2005, only 12 of its 32 high school graduates enrolled in college, and now almost everyone will be attending a higher education institution of some type.
The scholarship has changed the “culture” of the school district: students are encouraged to take AP classes and dual-enroll in the local community college, and field trips beginning in elementary school acclimate students to the collegiate environment.
Reese Drilling, a sophomore, remembers watching the news when the Baldwin Promise was announced, and seeing an interview of a student who was going to college to be a video game designer. Anna Semuels of the Atlantic quoted Drilling:
I’ve never forgotten that. Here’s somebody who never thought they could go out and do what they wanted to do. In that moment, to see somebody say, “Hey, I can do it, and there’s nothing that’s going to stop me.” It was amazing.
Richard Simonson, a Baldwin native, left the small town to run the Michigan branch of Gerald Ford’s presidential campaign. When he retired, he returned to Baldwin and set his sights on a scholarship program for his hometown. Though he is now deceased, the Baldwin Promise came to fruition in 2009.
Ellen Kerans, a friend of Simonson, said:
We thought this was the most important initiative we’d ever have, and we had to support it big. It would revitalize the students. It would make them feel like they have a promise, they really could go to college.
According to the Baldwin Promise website, the scholarship money takes effect after federal and state financial aid is paid, and only covers tuition and fees — not textbooks and living expenses. Also, the $5,000 per year only applies for four years for a total of $20,000.