Rockford Promise is a scholarship program modeled after one in Michigan that pays for education after high school.
The program covers nearly all students and has shown measurable success, including: higher GPAs, better graduation rates, and lower teen crime. Supporters believe focusing on education is key to making a difference in our community.
Erica Bibalou is all smiles as she walks across the stage to get her diploma from East High School. Not long ago, just attending school wasn’t an option for her. Four years ago, Erica and her family came to the U.S. as refugees from Africa. She is now a student at Rock Valley College, thanks to a scholarship from Rockford Promise.
“I value education a lot,” said Bibalou. “For me, it is the way to get where I want to be. I just don’t want to stop with like a bachelors. I want to get a doctorate degree.”
Rockford Promise believes that when students like Erica achieve higher levels of education, the entire Rockford community benefits.
“If we want as a community to really promote opportunity and to reduce inequalities, then the right focus is education,” said Dr. Karen Walker. “Particularly, college education.”
Rockford University and Rock Valley College have teamed up with Rockford Promise to offer fully funded scholarships to students who live in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Organizers believe the Promise can be transformative for the entire community.
“When you talk to business partners and politicians and people in city government, the piece that really is exciting to them is the idea of expanding our tax base and getting more and more industry to come to Rockford and continue the transformation to a top 25 city that we’re trying to do right now,” said Rockford Promise Board member Susan Fumo.
Expanding Rockford Promise to offer scholarships to more students in the community is the ultimate goal. Right now, Rockford scholars must be graduates of the Rockford Public School system and live in either the Ellis Heights or Midtown neighborhoods. It’s offered to students pursuing a degree and those looking to complete a certificate training program.
“So, if you want to be a welder or if you want some of the other technical skilled trades that they have at Rock Valley, those students would also qualify,” said Rockford Promise Board President Elaine Breck.
Erica says she hopes her experience inspires others to work hard to achieve their dreams.
“Nothing is impossible. Everything is possible if you believe because only you can make the decisions to get where you want to be. So, believe in yourself.”
“It’s making those little changes one person at a time,” said Breck.