New scholarships will help students

Published on Saturday, 8 March 2014 21:52 - Written by

This could change everything for some East Texas students — and the entire community. The Rusk TJC Citizens Promise scholarship program, announced last week, will assist Rusk students as they continue their educations. But judging by the results of other, similar programs (precious few of them), Rusk schools and even the East Texas community could be reaping benefits for years to come.

The program grants any Rusk ISD high school senior in the top 50 percent of the class up to $4,000 a year ($2,000 a semester) for two years to attend Tyler Junior College. The scholarship applies to the main campus and the vocational programs at its West Campus.

It is generously funded by gifts and pledges from Citizens 1st Bank, The Perkins Family Foundation and others, and is a partnership between TJC, the TJC Foundation, Rusk ISD, the bank and the foundation.

The funding will completely cover the costs of going to TJC, which ranges between $1,200 and $1,500 for 12 credit hours.

The promise program will begin this fall, enabling 67 current seniors the option to attend college for free.

What makes it different from other scholarship programs is its depth — it reaches a full half of the Rusk’s graduating seniors. Many scholarship programs focus on the highest achievers or the lowest income levels. Not this one. Rusk students who want a college education (or even a career that requires some training but not a full four-year degree) can now have that.

Only a few other similar “promise” programs exist (none of them in Texas). Where they’ve been implemented, communities have benefited.

In Kalamazoo, Mich., the program has been described as “a godsend.”

“It is making a significant difference in the lives of the students and their families who have received this remarkable gift,” the Kalamazoo Gazette editorialized in 2010. “Thus far, approximately 2,000 high school graduates are receiving an education that many of them could never have afforded. And 60 of those students have graduated with bachelor’s degrees.”

The schools there have seen improved test scores and a lower dropout rate. When the University of Arkansas studied the El Dorado, Arkansas promise program, it found that “the Promise helped to foster a ‘college-going’ culture throughout the school district, motivating students to work harder and energizing our schools to provide the best possible education to our students… This study shows that the impact of the Promise is measurable.”

The benefit to students will last far beyond their educational careers, whether they seek an associate’s degree, a certificate, or go on to seek a bachelor’s degree.

Student loan debt is putting incredible pressure on our young people and our economy as a whole. Home purchases are often delayed, as are other life-enriching decisions, such as entering into marriage and having children — all because of the heavy cloud of student loan debt that hangs over the average graduate’s head.

Rusk TJC Citizens Promise scholars will be free from such worries.

Those who made this program possible should be commended, and we hope other communities see this as a model for their efforts.