Sunday, September 20, 2020
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Qualified free tuition at Harper

Aerial view of Harper College, courtesy Harper

Harper College near Chicago promises two free years’ tuition for students who keep up their grades, attendance, and community service in high school, the Daily Herald reports.

Given today’s tuition at the community college, that could amount to a savings of about $3,800 per year for qualified students, beginning with this fall’s freshman class at the college in Palatine, Ill.

All kinds of players—from parents to high school guidance counselors to employers—have integral roles in Harper’s comprehensive program, designed to provide the kinds of graduates employers want today: motivated, disciplined, and on the job.

A key element of the free tuition campaign is that kids have to maintain their good-student status for all four years of high school. They can’t slip up even once, which feeds into the “disciplined” objective of the program. The college has been sending representatives to middle schools in the area to tell students about the program and the importance of starting to work toward it in their freshman year.

Students at high schools in Palatine-based Township High School District 211, Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, and Barrington Community Unit School District 220 are eligible. The list includes the following high schools:

  1. William Fremd
  2. Palatine
  3. Schaumburg
  4. Hoffman Estates
  5. Elk Grove
  6. John Hersey
  1. Prospect
  2. Wheeling
  3. Rolling Meadows
  4. Buffalo Grove
  5. Barrington

Not for ‘straight A’ but ‘scrappy C’ students

Harper’s president, Ken Ender, told the Daily Herald that the program was open to students from all backgrounds, regardless of family income. That is, it’s not a need-based scholarship for which students qualify by submitting family tax returns.

Rather, it’s designed for students who typically do well at a community college, but not necessarily for the top academic performers, who are actually more likely to study at four-year universities.

“If your dad makes $100,000 or $1,000, at the end of the day, we’re really working on you,” Ender said. “It’s about you earning your right to participate in higher education and be a part of this community.”

Support from employers has been strong, especially in recognizing the target student this program will serve: those who have what it takes to overcome obstacles and succeed in their endeavors.

“They can work for this, and it’s so much a healthier attitude for being successful professionally and personally, that you contributed to your own success, and nothing was given to you or handed to you or expected,” the paper quoted Marianne Stanke, a client relations executive at accounting firm Deloitte and one of the architects of the program, as saying.

Hard numbers, but not hard requirements, in attendance

College officials anticipate more students being knocked out of eligibility because of attendance, not grades. For example, high school sophomores can miss only nine attendance days; seniors can miss only seven. If they miss more than that during high school, they’re not eligible for this program at Harper.

The rule isn’t set in stone, as appeals can be made for serious medical issues. However, the program’s designers said they had heard from too many employers about workers taking too much time off of work and not showing the kind of commitment they need today.

Like many school officials, I would also have to push back on any strictly-set attendance requirement. This one isn’t set strictly, as I said, but it isn’t right to make a mom worry that her kid won’t qualify for free tuition because he had a serious medical condition once during his sophomore year of high school.

There should be some parallel here to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows employees to be out of work for extended periods and not lose eligibility in any program offered through their employers.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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