The Battle Creek high school seniors walked across the stage to enthusiastic applause as they formally announced their post-high school plans, but that couldn’t hold a candle to the big announcement that came after: A new scholarship program will pay for up to 100% of their college tuition and fees.
The Bearcat Advantage, part of a partnership between Battle Creek Public Schools and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, will ensure that district graduates have an opportunity to attend college. The scholarships begin with the Class of 2023, who graduate next week, Superintendent Kimberly Carter said during a decision day event — one of many held across the country during the month of May that celebrate the post-graduation plans of high school seniors. The district enrolls 3,753 students, including 279 seniors.
At this event, which was live streamed on YouTube, the scholarship announcement overshadowed those decisions. Students learned that if they have been enrolled in the district since kindergarten, they will have 100% of their tuition and fees covered. The amount decreases depending on how many years a student has been enrolled. For instance, a student enrolled for just the four years of high school will have 65% of their tuition and fees covered.
It was unclear Wednesday afternoon how much the foundation had provided to launch the scholarship program.
“It’s amazing,” said Kapree Richardson, a sophomore at Battle Creek High School. “This is like a good side door to a lot of things people can’t do. A lot of people want to go to college, but a lot of people can’t afford the terms of going to college.”
Kapree was uncertain himself. “This right here, it helps me out a lot.”
The scholarships cover tuition and fees at Michigan public or private colleges and universities. It is also eligible to be used at nearly 100 historically Black colleges and universities.
“This will change your life,” said La June Montgomery Tabron, CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. (The foundation is a Chalkbeat funder. Click here for a list of our supporters.)
The program is similar to the Kalamazoo Promise, which also covers up to 100% of tuition and fees for district graduates. Since it was announced in 2005, many other “promise” type scholarship programs have been created, including in Detroit, where eligible students can have their tuition costs covered through the Detroit Promise.
“This is our promise to this community,” Tabron said. “It’s our promise to all of you.”
The district and foundation have partnered for years. In 2017, the foundation gave the district a $51 million grant that was aimed at improving academic outcomes in the district. Carter said the grant helped the district create new academic and extracurricular programs for students, including career academies, dual enrollment programs, International Baccalaureate programs, and programs focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
“Over the last few years, our goal has been to use every resource, partnership and strategy available to make sure that each and every one of you succeeds,” Carter said. “For us, failure is not an option.”
The most recent data show that for the Class of 2022, the four-year graduation rate of the district was 58%, which is down from the pre-pandemic rate of 72% in 2018-19. For those who graduated in 2021 and enrolled in college, whether it was a four-year college or a community college, nearly 18% had to enroll in a remedial course because they needed an academic boost before taking more challenging college classes.
When the announcement came Wednesday afternoon, Carter was met with a loud round of applause. But Kapree said some students didn’t fully understand the magnitude of what they heard. But the adults knew. You could see many of them standing in ovation. Many were crying. “It was an emotional moment,” district spokesman Nate Hunt said.
“That is a blessing,” said Christina Taylor, who teaches high school geometry. “People should have been dropping to their knees. We are blessed beyond measurement. The only thing these children do is make sure they get to college. The resources are now there. That barrier has been lifted. Go home and let mom and dad know … the ball is in their court.”
Lori Higgins is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.