The New Haven Promise

Stephanie Rushford, Associate Editor

While most states and local governments are slashing spending for education and K-12 programs, in New Haven Connecticut, city officials promising students a full ride to college. Last week, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. introduced The New Haven Promise, which would give New Haven students a full-tuition college scholarship, provided they are residents of New Haven and hold a 3.0 GPA in high school. Once the students graduate, they must maintain a 2.5 GPA average each year in college to receive funding.  This program will award New Haven residents on a sliding scale, with kindergarteners getting 100 percent of their college scholarship, first graders 95 percent of the award and so on, this was done to prevent parents moving into the district in their child’s last year of schooling and claiming the full award.  The New Haven Promise is primarily funded by Yale University, with Yale University President Rick Levin stating at the press conference:

“This is a great day for New Haven, which means it is a great day for Yale.”


The New Haven Promise was based heavily on the Kalamazoo program based in Michigan; however the New Haven Promise has additional guidelines on behavior and high school grades. With The New Haven Promise city officials are looking to improve their students’ college retention rate, which stands at 50 percent within two years of completing high school.

The New Haven Promise is not a first of its kind; many cities across the nation have implemented college promise programs, with mixed results and criticism. In addition, both the Kalamazoo Promise and the New Haven Promise programs do not cover the expenses for room and board, which only increases over time and places a financial burden on many economically challenged students. Furthermore, these programs cease involvement in the students’ lives once they are ready to graduate college, a crucial time for young people looking for full-time employment.

While the New Haven Promise, and programs like it, may be a starting point in trying to  combat the nation’s high drop out rates, these programs do not address the many problems within our education system. The great economic inequalities between our nation’s school districts is only a piece of the education puzzle, simply put, throwing money at students will not lead to deep changes within the our failing school systems.  Moreover, as noted by Arthur Levine, former president of the Teacher’s College of Columbia University,

“In previous research, interviewing poor, first-generation college students, I had discovered that, in every case, a mentor had steered the student from the neighborhood to college.”

In his essay, whether he knows it or not, Levine echoes the same sentiments from then first lady, now Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s book, “It takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us,”, which supports the notion that many outside factors contribute to the fate and successes of our children’s lives.

Similarly, our education system or  ‘village’ must work together to educate our children; from the parents playing an active role in the child’s school attendance and homework, to teachers adjusting and modifying their lessons plans to their students’ education levels, to the principals and superintendents hiring capable teachers and preventing any students from falling through the cracks.

One of Say Yes to Education's Summer Camps

In his piece, Levine references the Say Yes to Education program, which also promises full- tuition scholarships, however, they also provide additional resources for students and parents. In addition to providing students and parents with financial aid coaching classes, Say Yes to Education provides parents with legal clinics to address any issues—such as eviction, deportation, and child support—which would greatly disrupt a child’s academic career.

Nevertheless, with all of these incentives for students and parents, the Say Yes to Education program has had only moderate success with improving its graduation rates. On the other hand, this program, unlike others, provides support from homeroom to the family room; teachers and school officials are not done with their jobs when the school day is over. Furthermore, the Say Yes to Education program has reached out Syracuse’s faith leaders to become involved in publicizing this program, thus inviting the adults and neighbors of this village to enact positive change in the students’ lives. The Say Yes to Education program is also working with the school district to find a new Superintendent, which greatly impacts how the school districts are funded and the staffing of personal in the school districts.

The New Haven Promise program will not be the fast and easy solution for school officials in Connecticut. Moreover, simply throwing money at the problem will not be a ‘silver bullet’ to solve the education crisis in this country; school systems need restructuring and everyone in the village must work together to educate our students.


One Response to The New Haven Promise

  1. Hello. I’d first like to disclose that I am the mother of James Sasso, another writer for your journal.

    But, I am also a teacher at Wilbur L. Cross High School in New Haven, and I’d like to comment on the article by Stephanie Rushford, concerning the New Haven Promise program. As someone who knows very intimately the students and issues in our school district, I can state with some certainty that the new grant to give students the confidence that their tuition will be covered will probably not make a dent in the graduation rate. The graver issues of inner city life, the violence and decimation of hope that many of my students are born into cannot be cured by the promise of college money. My students who drop out need the kind of social services that our country is not willing to give, and no public high school in this country can currently afford. No teacher, no matter how skilled, can save most of these students, and no public school is currently equipped to meet their psychological and physcial needs, let alone find a way to educate them for college. There should be no connection between this grant and the really tough students who drop out of high school. One must remember that one program cannot be expected to help everyone, and that this Promise is going to where it absolutely will reap rewards.

    This grant absolutely WILL be a tremendous, almost miraculous boon to other half of the students who DO graduate. And this really is nothing to criticize! The 50% who do graduate often don’t have hopes of continuing college because of financial reasons. This grant, I believe, will help those students get through college, and pass that experience on to their own children.

    I’m a baby-boomer. All of my grandparents were immigrants to the United States. My parents didn’t go to college. My grandparents on both sides, were either self-educated or illiterate. My father didn’t need a college education to be a New York City Police officer, eventually promoted to detective. Our house in Levittown, N.Y. was affordable. When I went to college at a NY state school, I could pay the tuition myself, working at a part time job. This “American Dream” pattern is no longer available for students today. In-state tuition in Connecticut at a state school is over 25 thousand a year. Many of my students who have received aid, often cannot make up the thousands of dollars of difference in cost.

    It is sorrowful that urban public schools cannot do much for students who come from homes stricken by poverty, drug abuse, neglect, violence and lack of basic physcial, emotional and medical care — let alone lack of educational enrichment. That many of these students are minority students speaks to the residual effects of systemic racism in our country, but not to race itself. Indeed, most of my Advanced Placement Literature students this year are minorty students, whose families are solidly middle class.

    To help the others, society needs more than scholarship money, and more than money — or threats — thrown at the public schools. The 14-year-old ninth graders I see who already have had trouble with the law, and who already were expelled from middle school because of violence, anger, drug use, or criminal activity — these are children who often have a destructive home, if any, no hope, and no education. They have been shot, burned, beaten, stabbed, physically and sexually abused — witnessed horror, or have been completely neglected. They already are struggling to survive.

    Let’s take a business model: These are my clients. What do I need to do to move a kindergarden student from this environment to Yale? How are you going to eliminate the infamous gap between the poor and privileged? It’s easy to see that the intervention has to start at home, in the community. Universal heath care, affordable day care and required preschool , might be good places to start. Summer programs and urban bording schools? Community centers that provide mentors for black and Hispanic males, who seem to be especially vulnerable? A focus on training students to do work that will afford a sense of self-esteem? The skewed focus on academic exams seems completely detrimental to improving the success of half of my students. Why can’t we do better?

    The “Promise” program is NOT for these kids. We need something else for this 50%. But for the other 50%? it is a Godsend!

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