TOM BUTT E-FORUM: Dispute Over Scholarship Money Stalls Out Decisions on Promise Program


Mark Twain is mythically credited with the saying, regarding California, “Whisky’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin.” We don’t have a lot of either in Richmond right now, but we do have $35 million for scholarships, and the fighting has begun.

The Richmond Promise Program is a $35 million scholarship initiative funded form the $90 million Chevron Environmental and Community Investment Agreement (ECIA) that accompanied Richmond’s approval of the $1 billion Chevron Refinery Modernization Program. $35 million is a lot of money, but it’s not enough for everyone. Other Promise Programs have a lot more. For example, El Dorado, AR was given $50 million by Murphy Oil Corporation. Kalamazoo, MI has unlimited funding from an anonymous donor.

In Richmond, we have to figure out how to spend the limited funds we have, and the fighting has begun over two final but critical policy issues:

  • ·         Who is eligible, and
  • ·         How will the money be allocated

There are three options for eligibility, all of which are limited to Richmond and North Richmond students:

1.    Traditional public school graduates only

2.    Traditional public school and charter school graduates

3.    Traditional public school, charter school and private school graduates

On Tuesday night, the Richmond City Council split 3-3 on options 2 and 3, so no decision was made. I voted for option 3. For a lot of reasons, I would have preferred limiting the program to traditional public school, because I think they and their students have the greatest need. However, the Richmond Promise is for Richmond, and I felt it was appropriate to allow all Richmond residents to participate. This will about double the number of eligible students and make the second policy decision much more difficult. 

The allocation policy question never made it to a vote. Councilmembers wanted more information. Items of contention include whether community college attendees should get more money than is needed for basic tuition and fees and how much the maximum grant to 4-year college attendees should be.

  • ·         The staff recommendation was to provide $2,500 per year for four-year college students and $500 to community college students.
  • ·         The Ad Hoc Committee recommendation was to provide $4,000 per year to four-year college students and $4,000 to community college students.
  • ·         There was a compromise plan for $4,000 per year for four-year college students and $1,000 to community college students.

Some City Council members want to provide community college students the same amount of money as those who have been accepted to and plan to attend four-year colleges. The problem is that at the rate of $4,000 per year, the available funding would be used up in about four years.

Community college fees are about $1,300 a year while CSU fees are about $7,000 a year and UC fees are about $13,000 a year. Every dollar diverted to a community college student is a dollar taken away from a four-year college student who has worked hard throughout high school to become college ready and college qualified. Anyone can attend community college; there are no prerequisites. Many community college students live at home and do not typically have the same expenses as those attending four-year institutions.

Community colleges are great institutions, and they provide an invaluable service, but there is a reason they are called “community colleges.” They are relatively inexpensive and are in our community, and that is to make access convenient and inexpensive. But we want the Richmond Promise program to provide maximum motivation for students to attend 4-year colleges; they statistically have a better completion rate and the financial rewards are much better.

The $4,000 figure is an estimate of what the typical 4-year student would need annually to supplement other grants without having to take out loans. See the charts below that explain how this works. Ideally, we would stick with the $4,000 figure, but the funds would run out of money in about four years. By reducing the amount to $2,000 to $2,500, we might be able to extend the program to as much as ten years, if we can invest on the front end to increase the total.



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