Rusk ISD students were given a promise of a college education Thursday through a collaborative initiative between the district and Tyler Junior College.
The Rusk TJC Citizens Promise, 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.
TJC’s board of trustees unanimously approved a resolution to participate in the program at its meeting Thursday morning.
It is 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, said Dr. Kim Russell, vice president of advancement and external affairs. Books also can be purchased with the funds.
Jim Perkins, president of Citizen’s 1st Bank and chairman of the foundation board, said he has dreamed of enacting a promise program for five years after hearing of a program in Kalamazoo, Mich. He said the group visited with several program directors and visited towns to see how the programs affected their communities.
“When it came down to it, the only way this could happen was to be associated with the best junior college in America — Tyler Junior College,” Perkins said.
Dr. Russell said similar programs have seen a wide variety of successes, including increased enrollment and retention, higher test scores and graduation rates and an increase in the number enrolling in college after high school. She said there also is an economic impact with more families moving to promise communities and bringing more workforce-ready workers there.
The unveiled program is the first one in Texas, and Perkins said he hopes the Rusk program inspires others.
“Rusk is my hometown,” Perkins said. “That’s where I went to high school, my dad was on the school board, my wife was on the school board, our children graduated from Rusk High School — and to be able to bring in Tyler Junior College and it’s expertise into a community that is so outstanding … is really thrilling.”
The promise program will begin this fall, enabling 67 current seniors to attend college for free.
Rusk ISD Superintendent Scott Davis said as soon as the measure was formally approved, a text message was sent to Rusk High School administrators to break the news to the qualifying students in its auditorium.
“The student who will graduate at the cut off line was planning to come to TJC and didn’t know how she was going to pay,” Davis said after the vote. “Right now … she is about to hear that there is a way for her to go to college. That’s huge. That’s life- changing.”
Scott Schwartz, Rusk High School principal, said the announcement generated a lot of energy and conversation among a smiling group of seniors. He said computer labs were booked with eager students filing out scholarship applications.
Schwartz said that sometimes students get discouraged if they’re not in the top percentile of their class to qualify for scholarships. But with this new program, the foundation is giving a larger number of students the opportunity to attend college.
“For those kids that worked hard but are not at the top 10 or 20 percent, it gives them hope that they can do something after high school and get money to do that,” he said. Once you put that hope in their hands, they can do some incredible things with it.”
Officials with TJC and Perkins declined to comment on the amount of funding contributed to the promise program, but Perkins said there was enough to last until children at Rusk Elementary were ready for college. He said the foundation has been contacted by other donors and will be seeking more.
TJC President Dr. Mike Metke said the college is thrilled to be a part of the program, and thanked the Perkins family for enriching the lives of many.
“We wish every town had someone who remembered their home and school like all of you. …” he said. “I think the best gifts are the ones where you get to see the impact. … We are all going to see this transforming this region over time.”