Richmond Promise, CCC host national conference at UC Berkeley

Jessie Stewart (wearing pink) is executive director of the Richmond Promise, which co-hosted PromiseNet 2019 at UC Berkeley on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 5-6.

While President Obama’s goal to transform the U.S. into the world’s best educated, most competitive workforce by 2020 won’t come to fruition, Dr. Martha Kanter, former U.S. Undersecretary of Education during the Obama administration, says an initiative rapidly spreading across the nation is showing promise.

Dr. Kanter pointed to the Richmond Promise as one in a growing number of positive examples.

On Monday morning, Kanter, currently president of Washington D.C.-based College Promise Campaign, helped kick off PromiseNet 2019 at UC Berkeley. The two-day national conference gathers education experts, civic leaders, policymakers and philanthropists from across the country with the aim of strengthening a growing movement of Promise initiatives.

Called Bridges to Opportunity, this year’s conference is hosted by the Richmond Promise and Contra Costa Community College District, in partnership with the UC Berkeley Division of Equity & Inclusion. Its schedule featured high-profile guest speakers such as California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, University of California President Janet Napolitano, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and a panel of Bay Area mayors including Richmond Mayor Tom Butt.

Dr. Martha Kanter, former U.S. Undersecretary of Education during the Obama administration, presented at the start of PromiseNet 2019 at UC Berkeley on Monday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Promise initiatives are public-private collaborations that are increasingly emerging in U.S. communities as a way to make higher education more affordable and accessible to all students.

In Richmond, Chevron is investing $35 million over 10 years in the Richmond Promise to provide graduating high school seniors from Richmond and North Richmond with up to $1,500 annually toward their goal to obtain a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or Career and Technical Education (CTE) certificate from an accredited four-year university or community college. The program, which has benefited just over 1,000 students since launching in 2016, doesn’t just provide scholarship money, but also college guidance and a support system that begins in middle school and lasts through college graduation.

Early research on Promise initiatives reveal improved education and career outcomes for participants, including reduced student debt.

Currently, there are 331 Promise initiatives in the U.S., with a “couple hundred more in vetting,” Kanter said. One of the newest is one launching at a rural college in Kansas.

Kanter said it’s only the beginning.

“There are 35,000 cities in the U.S.,” she said. “We’re just at the gate.”

Educators from around the country attended PromiseNet to share strategies aimed at improving outcomes for students benefiting from Promise initiatives.

She commented on how initial investments in Promise initiatives tend to expand in collaboration, praising as an example the evolving partnership between the Richmond Promise and Contra Costa College Community College District that aims to set up success pathways for local students.

The first PromiseNet conference took place in 2008 in Kalamazoo, Mich., due to interest from other communities who wanted to replicate the program, according to Richmond Promise Executive Director Jessie Stewart. The forums allow experts to share data on what works, and what doesn’t.

“So much of what makes the Richmond Promise who we are today, really sprung from the relationships and learnings from that convening,” she said. “Our scholarship operations are informed by Kalamazoo and Pittsburgh, our student data system was inspired by Tennessee Achieves, and our pillars of near-pear student programming was informed by Lynchburg (Virginia).”

Stewart aimed for PromiseNet 2019 in the Bay Area to have a similar impact.

“Few factors are more important to the future success of communities than having a well-educated population that is prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” said Hector Infante, public affairs manager at Chevron Richmond. “We cultivate innovative partnerships with organizations, local governments, and community and nonprofit organizations to improve educational opportunities particularly in the key subjects of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”

Educators from around the country, including representatives of WCCUSD and Contra Costa College, attended PromiseNet to share strategies aimed at improving outcomes for students benefiting from Promise initiatives.