More than 450 high school seniors at 16 schools turned in completed Richmond Promise applications prior to the March 17 deadline.
In less than two months since the program’s launch, 69 Kennedy High seniors who account for 40-percent of their graduating class submitted completed applications, a substantial impact for the young program, said Jessie Stewart, Richmond Promise executive director. The sign-ups followed more than 40 community meetings and in-class sessions supporting students and families through the application process.
Education officials call the figure a solid starting point for the college scholarship program’s first year. Richmond Promise offers every Richmond and North Richmond resident graduating from high school up to $1,500 annually, or up to $6,000 for four years, to attend a community college or four-year college or university. The program was made possible by a $35 million grant from Chevron, which was part of a $90 million community benefits agreement connected to the upcoming $1 billion modernization of the Richmond Refinery.
After Richmond City Council voted on the scholarship program’s guidelines in November, which included requiring students to fill out federal financial aid forms in addition to the Richmond Promise application, the program officially launched in late January. Program officials were tasked with signing up as many seniors in the Class of 2016 before the tight deadline of March 17.
With more time to prepare, Stewart expects the numbers of completed applications to grow next year. One of the largest hurdles was helping students through their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which is far more complex than the Richmond Promise application. Next school year, program officials will have more time to work with students, as FAFSA registration opens Oct. 1, Stewart said.
“Overall, this is a solid count for this initial year, but we also look forward to learning from this process and working with our district and community partners, students, and families to ensure we reach even more eligible students in the coming years,” Stewart said.
Stewart said the program will work with Scholarship America and the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) to identify and address any challenges or barriers that are keeping students from applying.
Over the next month, Scholarship America will also be working with the school district to ensure the Richmond Promise applications are filled out accurately and properly. Meanwhile, program officials will foster partnerships with higher education institutions such as Contra Costa College to ensure the students are prepared and supported, according to Stewart.
Students will be notified about their award amount in mid-May, Stewart added.
The Richmond Promise is being set up to be more than an annual check. Stewart envisions the program evolving into a comprehensive college and career system where students are not only enrolled but prepared for success in college. The ultimate goal is for the Richmond Promise to be the catalyst in creating a college-going culture in the city.
The photo, which shows Richmond Promise Executive Director Jessie Stewart coaching a student on her scholarship application, comes courtesy of the city of Richmond.
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