In 1981, Eugene Lang promised 61 6th graders he would pay their college tuition. All they had to do was complete high school and get accepted to college. The “I Have a Dream” Foundation website reports 60% of these 6th graders earned a college degree.
Last week, Hope Chicago Founder and Co-Chair Pete Kadens announced to juniors and seniors at five high schools a similar commitment to them.
Both efforts are terrific! No question. But more must be done to realize the dream.
GEO, which shares the passion and vision expressed by Mr. Lang and Mr. Kadens, makes the same promise but approaches achieving the college goal a little different. One big difference is we make this promise to all our students, beginning in kindergarten!
Another BIG difference is I’m not a wealthy philanthropist. So, I don’t have millions to give away every year. But that doesn’t stop me from helping hundreds of students earn college degrees, credits, and career certifications every year.
We are currently serving 3500 students in Gary, Indianapolis, and Baton Rouge. And every single student in our schools have an opportunity to earn college degrees and career certifications for free, too.
How? We use existing state, local and federal dollars to fund the college dreams of our students. These are the same dollars every K-12 school across the country receives. The difference? We don’t believe these dollars belong to us. They belong to the students. And we help students get as much return as possible on their taxpayer education dollars. And the students love having control of THEIR money.
We go beyond paying for college tuition and textbooks, too. We provide staff to help our students socially, emotionally, and academically. We’ve learned many high school student’s dropouts of high school because they don’t believe they are college material. No one in their family went to college so why should they?
So, we’ve built a model to convince students, starting in kindergarten, they are college capable. We build their self-esteem and support their success in college and career pursuits. And it’s all free to our students.
We’ve learned over the last 24 years that more is needed than money to go to college. And, in fact, there is a lot of “free” money for college already out there—Pell grants, scholarships, and more. But only 50% of Pell recipients finish college within six years of graduating from high school. Same is true for Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars (free college tuition for income-qualified students).
In Gary, when we started, the city had a 50% high school dropout rate. Today, the city still has a 40% dropout rate. But at our school, we post 90% or better graduation rates and post one of the state’s highest college and career readiness rates. This year, our graduating class has earned more than a full year of college (29 college credits) already with several students having already earned associate degrees (free). They did this during the pandemic, too. Wow!
In recent years, we had one student (Raven Osborne above) earn a full bachelor’s degree from Purdue before graduating from our high school. Earned by her, paid for by us. CBS featured Raven on their evening news. A second student of ours came eight credits shy of earning her bachelor’s from Purdue while in our high school last year. We have several current students attempting the same goal–in our HIGH SCHOOL.
I’m sharing this with my friends to encourage this community to leverage philanthropy to create a legacy of students completing high school having already earned college credits, degrees, and career certifications. This will lead to improved high school graduation rates and improved college completion rates.
Philanthropy is needed to kickstart our schools. Once open, our schools live on beyond us. Want to learn more? Call me. Thanks.
Founder & President