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First year of Columbus Promise program boosts college-aid applications, enrollment

Columbus State Community College Sign
David Holm
Columbus State Community College Sign

A program designed to give Columbus City School students a pathway to post-secondary education is boosting interest in college attendance across the board, Superintendent Talisa Dixon said Thursday.

Using $9.5 million through 2024, students can attend Columbus State Community College for up to six semesters, for a two-year degree or a certificate. About 30% more city school students are opting to attend the college than in previous years under the program.

But, even students who don’t plan to use the program are finding a culture encouraging and enabling them to explore higher education, Dixon said.

“We have seen an increase in student interest not only in Columbus State, but in college-going overall,” Dixon said.

At a time when applications for federal college aid declined nationally by 8.9% nationally, Dixon said students in Columbus completed nearly 50% more FAFSA applications this year over previous years.

Dixon said the figures are “remarkable.”

About 700 students are in the program, though some could choose other options. The goal of the program is to enroll 425 students this year. About 300 other students are in the process of completing the steps of the program.

Dixon said the program, which offers other forms of assistance to the students, is breaking down the barriers that have made it historically difficult for the students to pursue more education after high school.

“When we talk about equity and removing barriers for our students in the community, the Columbus Promise is delivering. It gives our students the opportunity to try and all that costs them is their effort and their dedication to achieving a brighter future,” she said.

David T. Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College, said the new programs and new additions to the campus will embrace the students arriving in the fall under the promise program.

“Promise Scholars will be closely supported by advisors and academic coaches chosen to work exclusively with the Promise cohort. We’ve also created a space at the College just for Promise students—a place to study, meet with peers and support staff, or just hang out. And because we know that most of our students work while going to school, we’re engaging employers to identify meaningful learn-and-earn opportunities to place scholars in jobs that will help them now, and in their future careers,” Harrison said.

Extra effort will be made to help the students find work in their fields.

The City of Columbus donated $4 million to the program, Columbus State $1 million and all but $200,000 from a $4.5 million fundraising campaign has been raised, said Katina Fullen, executive director of I Know I Can, an organization working to help students in the district get an education after graduation.

Mayor Andrew Ginther said the program is “restorative” and will empower more equitable progress. He said the students are the city’s future leaders and the investment will lift up the city as a whole.

City Council President Shannon Hardin said this phase may only be the beginning.

“This first class is critical to testing the program's design because our hope is to expand it. I cannot thank our partners enough for the hard work to get this first group on the path to certificates, degrees and a career,” Hardin said.

According to the city, this promise program differs from others because of its “inclusive and progressive model,” offering assistance with books, more time to complete the programs and allows part-time students, among other things.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.