The idea was based around a promise. A promise to help Michigan City High School graduates better afford and continue their education after high school, while becoming more connected and invested in their city. The idea is simple but the complexity behind how much of an impact the Promise Scholarship can have on every public and private sector in the city is anything but simple.
“It’s really an exciting time for Michigan City,” said Executive Director of the Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City, Clarence Hulse. “The EDCMC initiated the process the get the Promise Scholarship funded after the idea was kicked around for many years.”
The EDCMC put together a white paper, built support for the program throughout the community and demonstrated that it was in fact doable. From there, the idea took off and was molded by the organizations and interests involved into what it is today.
“I am excited about the small role I played to be part of something that will be a game changer for our community for years to come,” Hulse said. “Many people in the community are excited about it and the benefits are soon to be realized. I believe the impact will be transformative for Michigan City and La Porte County.”
The EDCMC conducted intensive research and presented an overview of the Promise Scholarship’s pros and cons, program background and best practices. Then, Michigan City Area Schools were asked to look into how such a program would complement their objectives and, afterward, they presented their ideas to Mayor Ron Meer, elected & appointed officials, and economic development representatives from across Michigan City.
“I’ve often referred to the Michigan City Promise Scholarship as a ‘game changer’ for the Michigan City Area Schools,” said MCAS Superintendent, Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins. “Many of our students are going to benefit from having the additional financial resources and they’ve really devised it such that it will be for them to attend a two or four university to complete their post-secondary work in a higher education institution facing less debt, which is important to many families in our community.”
“I also really value the fact that community service is such an integral part of the Promise Scholarship initiative because we feel that it’s important for our students to give back to a city that has invested in them,” Dr. Eason-Watkins said. “It’s also important to note that they’ll become more connected to the city by doing so where economic development opportunities are growing and where businesses are looking to attract a talented, educated workforce.”
Getting the Promise Scholarship implemented called for working across most of the public and private sectors in Michigan City which, in practice, is no small task. Recognizing and highlighting the benefits of the initiative throughout the city and for generations to come went a long way towards getting the ball rolling.
“I look at it as a huge win for the city, the school system and economic development,” Dr. Eason-Watkins added. “We have a very strong partnership with the Economic Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, and, of course, with the city. In trying to do things that will be mutually beneficial, we know that the schools are an integral part of the future of this city and we’re working hard to insure that we can meet the workforce needs of the city.”
Richard Murphy, Michigan City Controller, echoed Dr. Eason-Watkins in his optimism and excitement about all of good that can come from implementing the Promise Scholarship and opening the door to education opportunities for Michigan City’s future workforce.
“I really love to talk about this,” said an enthusiastic Murphy. “It’s a great thing for Michigan City. I think the leadership, the mayor, his administration and, in discussions with business leaders and the city council, everyone’s recognizing that Michigan City is heading in the right direction.”
“We’re amidst a comeback and I always call it the ‘Michigan City Comeback Story,’” Murphy added. “Things like our downtown is coming back and Artspace, and efforts at placemaking and trying to attract private investment are really making a statement, and turning heads in the region. Inextricably connected to economic development is always education and the perception of our public school system. That’s something that’s always on our mind.”
Michigan City began researching around 38 other communities in the United States that have initiated similar Promise Scholarship programs. Based on the successes that many communities around the country have experienced as a result of the implementation of the program, Michigan City is poised to benefit greatly.
“The data is just overwhelming when you look at what it’s done for population growth, enrollment in the schools, property values and so it just made a really compelling argument,” said Murphy. “Dollar for dollar, there’s possibly no better investment for Michigan City’s future.”
“When we launched the Promise, it basically becomes what people talk about when they talk about Michigan City schools. They talk about, when someone brings up the schools, ‘Hey, you know they’ve got a new Promise Scholarship if you graduate and complete your criteria the city will pay $5K a year.’ That becomes a powerful branding message for the school system, it brings morale up for them, and it gives parents, teachers and students a goal.”
Seeing the impact that it could have across the board and in so many sectors of the city, it became a mission for elected and appointed representatives, educators and economic development professionals in Michigan City to get the program in place as quickly as possible.
Hammond, Indiana has also had the Promise Scholarship in place for around 10 years and Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott and his staff were able to provide intimate knowledge of the positive impact and potential that the program could have on the city’s future.
Through the Promise Scholarship, Michigan City is placed in an elite group of communities that place a great value on education and how essential it is for the prosperity of the city. The first funding of the project will take place in 2017 and there’s great excitement from the graduating class of students who are poised to kick off the transformative initiative.
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