In 2010, officials in New Haven, Conn., announced an initiative designed to disrupt tradition through college scholarship.
The primary objective was that New Haven Promise was not designed to lavish limitless resources on students unlikely to succeed. Instead the gambit was that an incentive program would motivate students and parents, who recognizing the opportunity, would change behaviors to ensure the completion of the requirements.
The following ten years have proven that a fiscally responsible approach could pay huge dividends for the city while not encouraging future loan debt for those unlikely to graduate, and thus, unlikely to afford the subsequent bills.
New Haven Promise has seen its qualifier roster grow from 140 to nearly 400 in that time. It has helped the enrollment in New Haven public schools — which had been mired in a downward trend for years — expand to a 50-year high.
Over 70 percent of the funded scholars come from households with incomes of less than $60,000 a year (nearly 40 percent from households under $30,000), while 90 percent of the qualifiers are Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The program has exponentially improved the chances of DACA students to attend college altogether and allowed new choices for the high performers. And the first four cohorts have proven that the students were up for the challenge as two-thirds of those who enrolled in a four-year college (even for just a semester) earned a bachelor’s degree.
Promise has also been working with local organizations and businesses to generate an internship and jobs pipeline as a return on the investment. Hundreds of Promise scholars have been placed in paid, career-focused internships in the summers and many of those who have graduated are leveraging their experience into landing full-time positions.
The mission of the Promise Council, a group of cross-sector business leaders committed to supporting scholars, is to provide access for many more.
For many a student, a college degree doesn’t translate to a job in their field of study and most aren’t sure why. Perhaps the major reason is that the hidden job market — where positions aren’t published — has grown larger and larger. That is especially true for students whose closest circle of family and friends have little experience with building business networks.
Members of the Council are willing to take a dive into their resources to support the enrichment of young talent as well as the inclusive growth in New Haven’s business, entrepreneurial and civic communities.
“I had access to an internship opportunity on Wall Street,” said Yale alum Ben Duster. “It became my career and, without that opportunity I don’t know how else I would have been introduced.”
The Council’s main goal is to catalyze Promise scholars’ ability to leverage executive expertise, preparing and equipping them for local and robust career opportunities. An additional goal is to work with industries to understand the value of hiring from the diverse and ever-growing talent pool that Promise has helped to cultivate.
“Beginning with the internships, certainly, I see our first job is to convince employers that this is not just a charity,” said Lesley Mills, the owner and operator of Griswold Home Care. “It’s a talent-driven organization and not a needs-based organization … Not only do they have to come to believe these are people of talent who are potential employees, but that they are going to invest not merely in the salary of the intern but the true mentoring and growth of that person as an employee.”
Promise’s initiative to strengthen and stimulate the economic vitality of the local employment markets starts early with the scholars succeeding in internship roles. Minimizing the lack of experience well before graduation is a key to opening doors.
“Promise is not an entitlement, but an earned benefit and it’s the easiest decision you can make as a hiring manager because you already understand the students have shown a commitment to hard work and discipline,” said John Cirello, who co-founded a law firm. “They are pre-vetted, and this makes it easier to see the quality.”
These students are not only pre-vetted, but they are likely to return to New Haven with a dramatic footprint. Unlike young folks hired from faraway places, Promise scholars serve as an example, inspiration and resource to their younger siblings, neighbors and school-aged students in the unique way only a New Haven resident can.
The Promise Council is as motivated as the students, ready to build a professional ecology and welcome the skills, talents and perspectives of the next generation of leaders to the city.
“Once young people leave college, there is a need to find quality jobs for companies looking to hire quality workers,” said Duster. “Promise makes the connection and meets the goal in the New Haven community of economic stimulation and the need to expand the industrial base that will attract more companies.”