New Haven promises college aid

New Haven’s public school students will get free college tuition at any public college or university in Connecticut, if they maintain a 3.0 grade point average and 90 percent attendance. Graduates will get $2,500 a year to attend an in-state private college. Students will have to maintain a 2.5 grade point average in college to continue receiving the money.

Yale University is providing most of the $4.5 million a year needed to fund the New Haven Promise. It’s open to city students who’ve attended public school — district-run or charter — since ninth grade or earlier.

Only 200 of the 1,000 graduates last year would have qualified, city officials said. About 83 percent of New Haven graduates go on to college, but more than 70 percent dropout after two years.

(Mayor John) DeStefano said the program was intended to curb a citywide high school dropout rate of 38 percent and cultivate a college-going culture, as well as to provide an economic incentive for families to move to New Haven. Students will qualify for the financial aid on a sliding scale, with those who started in city schools at kindergarten receiving the most, 100 percent of their tuition. Students who arrived in the ninth grade will receive 65 percent.

In Syracuse, New York, enrollment in city schools has grown since 2008, when Syracuse University and the Say Yes to Education foundation began offering free college tuition to public high school students. However, the graduation rate hasn’t improved.

George A. Weiss, a Wall Street financier who founded Say Yes to Education in 1987, said the foundation had paid college tuition for more than 350 students in predominantly poor schools in Hartford; Philadelphia; Cambridge, Mass.; and Harlem in New York City. He said academic enrichment programs, counseling and other services had supplemented the tuition assistance.

“You can’t just give them an offer of money,” Mr. Weiss said. “They still have their day-to-day issues, and you have to help them.”

All college scholarship programs have learned this lesson:  Disadvantaged students need mentors, tutors and counselors to get them on the college track and keep them on track. A scholarship offer isn’t enough.

I also predict students with only 90 percent attendance aren’t going to need more than one semester of college tuition.

Update:  Why isn’t Yale offering scholarships to Yale? Chad Aldeman wants to know.