Oakland pledges to fund college for poor
“From Cradle to Career”
Oakland will launch a citywide effort Thursday to triple the number of college graduates coming out of public schools, an ambitious and expensive “cradle to career” plan that aims to reverse cycles of poverty and hopelessness by raising expectations that all children can thrive in school.
The centerpiece of the Oakland Promise initiative is an infusion of grants, ranging from $500 college savings accounts for children born into poverty to college scholarships of up to $16,000 for low-income students. The money is intended to provide both real and symbolic support, signaling to kids and their families that there’s an investment in their future.
According to officials, who have spent six months developing the initiative and will announce the details Thursday at Oakland High School, it will cost $38 million to ramp up the program over the first four years and up to $35 million annually to sustain it. The money is coming from sources including foundations, philanthropists, the city and the school district.
The effort is something of an experiment, because no other place in the country has this kind of comprehensive, long-term strategy to send more kids to college, city officials said. But the need is great in Oakland, where 10 percent of the city’s public-school ninth graders graduate college.
“Yes, this initiative is ambitious,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “All my life I’ve seen this as the one thing that has held Oakland back.”
Over the next 10 years, officials said, Oakland Promise plans to open 55,000 college savings accounts, provide $100 million in college scholarships and serve 200,000 students and families. Every City Council and school board member has endorsed it, as have 100 community organizations, two dozen university officials and 200 leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
$25 million raised
While sustained funding is the central challenge, Oakland officials say they raised $25 million to launch the effort. The school district is expected to cover $1 million annually, and the city has committed $150,000, a number that may increase now that the initiative has begun, officials said.
The East Bay College Fund plans to contribute $1.5 million per year, while Kaiser Permanente and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. are giving $3 million and $1 million, respectively, to start up the program. Organizers will need $18 million more to cover the costs through 2020, an amount they say is reachable.
“It will be on us to make the case that eventually this would be one of the smartest public investments that any city could make,” Schaaf said.
That investment includes the $500 college fund for each child born into poverty — with eligibility tied to the same government standards that apply to free and reduced-price school lunches — as well as a $100 college account for every kindergartner, high school counseling centers and up to $16,000 in scholarships that come with individual mentors and support through college.
Belief in all kids
Oakland Promise combines successful initiatives from across the country, with a focus on disadvantaged youth and building “a culture of a college-bound city,” said David Silver, the mayor’s education director. Research shows that a child who has a college savings account of at least $500 is four times more likely to graduate college, he noted.
Middle-class families generally consider college a given, said city schools Superintendent Antwan Wilson. Poor children and families don’t — and they often don’t believe in the system. A $500 college account, he said, tells them the city believes in them and their future.
“Hope is extremely important. It’s called privilege, and the way privilege works is it gives you the ability to take things for granted,” Wilson said. “Odds are, a young person born into poverty in Oakland will live a life of poverty and have a shorter life.”
The prescription to change that, however, is expensive. The city’s plan is to ramp up the number of children served over the next four years and fully implement each piece within 10 years.
By this fall, 250 babies born into poverty will have $500 in the bank for college, according to the timeline, stepping up to 1,000 per year by 2020, and all 2,200 within a decade. Their parents will be also be eligible for up to $500 to support their child’s development. That will cost an estimated $5 million over the first four years.
In addition, every child entering kindergarten in a public school — about 4,600 each fall — will have $100 for college by 2020, and more in matching funds if their parents put in money. That will cost $2.9 million over four years.
In the same period, roughly $3.6 million will go to “future centers” at high schools to support applications for college and financial aid, with all slated to be open within 10 years.
College scholarships are the most expensive part of the plan, which calls for $1,000 to $16,000 to go to every financially and academically eligible student, with mentors assigned to them to ensure they get their degree. That will cost $25.5 million to scale up, with a goal of supporting 1,600 scholarship students per year within a decade.