The Northern Illinois University (NIU) Board of Trustees unanimously voted Dec. 7 to extend the…
A new partnership between Northern Illinois University and community leaders in Rockford will create opportunities for hundreds of students from that city to earn NIU degrees without having to pay tuition or fees.
That opportunity is available thanks to the cooperative efforts of NIU, the City of Rockford and Rockford Promise, a not-for-profit organization that works to increase educational attainment in that community.
The program was unveiled at a news conference Nov. 10, when it was officially announced that NIU is now an educational partner of Rockford Promise and that the City of Rockford will give $1.5 million a year to that organization, explicitly to be applied toward the cost of tuition and fees for qualifying students who wish to attend NIU. Participating students will also have access to internships and mentoring from Rockford businesses, schools and more.
Qualifications to participate in the program are similar to those for the Huskie Pledge. Launched last year, that program covers the cost of tuition and most fees (after all grants and scholarships are applied) for students graduating from any Illinois high school with a GPA of 3.0 or better, providing that they come from a family with a household income of $75,000 or less. The Rockford Promise program removes the family earning restriction, meaning that it is open to all students graduating from a Rockford public high school, whose families reside within the city limits.
“At NIU, we are committed to reducing the barriers that stand between talented students and a college education. We look upon this as an incredible opportunity to build upon those efforts right in our own backyard,” said NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman.
“I especially want to commend Mayor Tom McNamara and the City of Rockford for investing in the youth of this community,” Freeman added. “We know those students – they have been coming to NIU for 125 years. We are excited at the prospect of welcoming many more Rockford graduates to our campus under this incredible program. And, it is our strong hope that those students will return home, with an NIU degree in hand, ready to strengthen and enrich their hometown.”
McNamara said that he envisioned the program having a significant impact on the city for decades.
“Making a guarantee that college tuition will be covered for all qualified residents regardless of family finances is changing the conversation,” said Mayor McNamara. “The city is pledging $1.5 million annually because we know this program is a game-changer for our community. It is critical that we invest in our youth now to improve our community today and for many years to come. ”
According to research by NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies, the payoff of such problems is substantial. After studying similar programs around the country, CGS found that every dollar invested in programs like Rockford Promise yields an estimated return on investment of $131.81 in the form of additional lifetime earnings, increased local expenditures and avoided costs of social programs and other costs.
The benefits go beyond dollars and cents, said Dr. Tasha Davis, executive director of Rockford Promise, which since 2006 has provided $1 million in scholarships to 76 Rockford Public School graduates to attend Rock Valley College and Rockford University.
“We believe that this program will provide a powerful economic incentive for residents and businesses to locate to the Rockford region,” Davis said. “We also know that these programs have additional benefits, including enhanced workforce readiness, higher property values and decreased crime.”
For example, in Kalamazoo, Mich., where a program similar to Rockford Promise was launched 15 years ago, enrollment in public schools has grown by 25 percent (due in part to an influx of families hoping to benefit from the program), academic achievement is up and the high school graduation rate is rising. Almost 90% of the district’s graduates head to college or another form of post-secondary training—an exceptionally high rate for a low-income, urban school district.
Those outcomes have Dr. Ehren Jarret, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools, and an NIU alumnus, very excited.
“Rockford Promise has already made a significant impact on many RPS 205 students through its scholarship programs at Rockford University and Rock Valley College,” said Dr. Ehren Jarrett, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools and an NIU alumnus. “Being able to expand this program to include an additional four-year degree option at NIU is incredible.”
Jarrett said that more than 400 seniors in Rockford public schools would currently qualify for the program. It remains to be seen how many of those students might choose to study at NIU, however, based on the success of the Huskie Pledge program, which was introduced last fall, supporters believe that the expanded Rockford Promise will be very popular. Only Chicago and Aurora had more students enroll at NIU via the Huskie Pledge than Rockford, which saw 21 students benefit from the program.
The deadline to apply for the Fall 2021 semester is Feb. 1, 2021. An application can be found on the Rockford Promise website.
Media Contact: Joe King
Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 areas of study while serving a diverse and international student body.