Read more at The Atlantic
So, Baldwin, Michigan; ever heard of it? Yeah, me neither, but that’s about to change.
See, about a decade ago, less than half of the graduating Seniors — and it’s a small number, yes, but still — chose to go to college, and of those that did and then graduated from college, well, that number was two.
This year, nearly every single graduating student is going to college; so, what happened? In 2009, the Baldwin Promise was created; a fund which offers to pay up to $5,000 a year for any student from the Baldwin public schools to attend a public or private college in Michigan.
The Baldwin Promise was started by Rich Simonson, a Baldwin native who left the area for his career in politics — he ran Gerald Ford’s campaign in Michigan — and then returned to Baldwin when he retired. One day while having breakfast with friends, Simonson came up with a proposal: Why not ask everyone they knew to give some money to the community so that every local student could go to college?
Now, most people thought that idea kind of crazy, but Simonson did not; he began asking everyone he knew for $500. He even convinced school employees to donate and then asked Baldwin’s summer residents to give, too. People who couldn’t afford $500 all at once made payments to the Baldwin Promise; Simonson’s goal was $140,000, but they raised over $160,000.
Sure it sounds easy. Get people to donate and then give the money away. But it’s more than a check and a handshake. It starts with the kids in school, and the change in mindset that college is not something for other people an unaffordable dream, but something for everyone if you work toward that goal.
Now, when figured into the cost of higher education — a private college might cost $31,000 a year — $5,000 doesn’t sound like much, especially considering things like the Kalamazoo Promise — funded by anonymous donors — which is a “first-dollar” scholarship that pays 100% of tuition and fees at public colleges and universities, and can be added on top of Pell Grants. The Baldwin Promise is a middle-dollar scholarship, which means it comes after the student has applied for Pell Grants and institutional scholarships.
But … the Baldwin Promise came about because of Simonson and because the town and its people changed the way they talked about education, the value placed on education. From their first days in kindergarten — where students are taught to excel — and through elementary, middle and high school, students, teachers, administrator and parents, and the town itself, think about college and life after Baldwin schools.
And that’s the change; sometimes college seems like a lofty goal, an expense maybe out of reach, but in Baldwin, it’s talked about from the moment you start school, and talked about, and taught, all the way through; and when you grow up realizing there might be a helping hand, heck, in Baldwin, there will be a helping hand, you’re more apt to think that college is something for you, and not something for everybody else.
And to be fair, the Baldwin Promise is not the answer to the high cost of higher education, but if it helps even the students in one small town, and it helps those students from day one to understand and strive to go to college, then think about all those Baldwin kids and what they’ll take away from this.
And what they’ll make of it.