In January 2007, Mayor Jim Ardis introduced Peoria Promise and made a bold commitment to introduce this market-driven approach to economic development to the City of Peoria. Since then, the mayor, through the independent Peoria Promise Foundation, has made great strides towards fulfilling “The Promise.” In fact, ICC has recently established that 297 applicants qualify for the first “Promise” scholarships being awarded in the fall semester of 2008.
What is a “Promise Community”?
A Promise-type program can be defined as a city or community where people are working together to provide
or facilitate financial resources and support services
to a substantial percentage
of K-12 students to encourage high school graduation,
college success and community economic vitality.
Such a strategy requires community alignment and, of necessity, efforts that go beyond scholarships to include student support, community engagement and place-based economic development.
Peoria Promise is modeled after The Kalamazoo Promise, the first program of its kind. The Kalamazoo program is a universal scholarship program that guarantees—in perpetuity—college scholarships to any college or university in Michigan to potentially every graduate of Kalamazoo public schools. That program was endowed by a generous group of anonymous donors.
While Peoria shares many of the same characteristics and needs of the Kalamazoo community, we do not have such an endowment. Therefore, much of the efforts in the first year of the all-volunteer Peoria Promise Foundation has focused on funding sources. Led by Caterpillar, OSF, RLI, ELM and Illinois American Water, the Peoria-area corporate community has accepted the long-term vision of Peoria Promise and has generously contributed enough to ensure success for at least the first two years of the program. However, permanent endowment is still tens of millions of dollars away, and the Foundation
knows that it has its work cut out for it.
Beyond the financial benefit
to the family receiving the scholarship, the ultimate goal of The Promise is economic
development. Unlike the universal scholarship being offered by The Kalamazoo
Promise and other Promise communities, Peoria
Promise is place-based—that is to say, that rather than offering scholarships to any school in the state, Peoria Promise has forged a unique partnership with our outstanding community college at ICC.
Studies indicate that close to 80 percent of students who attend a local community college ultimately end up living, working and raising a family in that same community! Furthermore, data suggests that the demand for applicants with the type of two-year technical degree provided
by schools like ICC is outstripping supply in our area. These types of middle-income jobs are traditionally filled by homegrown human capital, and the availability of a well-trained workforce is often at the top of an expanding or relocating company’s list of requirements.
For our purposes here in Peoria, it is the hope and intent of the Peoria Promise Foundation that the Promise of a two-year degree at ICC—and the hope and opportunity that comes along with it—will help address many outcomes related to economic development:
- Improved K-12 education system filled with students aspiring to “the next level”
- The potential for increased property values and housing sales as city residency and attendance in the Peoria Public School system comes with two free years of college education for those who attend K-12
A decrease in out-migration of college graduates
- A better alignment of workforce preparedness and local business needs, as well as increased business retention and attraction to keep Peoria competitive in the global marketplace
The higher the education level of the population, the lower the crime rate.
As Mayor Ardis has indicated, only a place-based, market-driven economic development program such as Peoria Promise has the potential to address all of these issues with the same dollar. Eventually, the federal government may be involved in funding these programs, as both the Brookings Institute and the W.E. Upjohn Institute are currently doing feasibility studies and drafting policy proposals. In the meantime, private entities such as the Peoria Promise Foundation have seized the initiative. Further details, as well as donation information, can be found at peoriapromise.com. iBi