Free for All: A Community College Tuition Guarantee for Every High School Graduate – in 17 Counties

A story from CREATE Community Foundation (MS).

In Northeast Mississippi, the state’s oldest community foundation, the Create Foundation, saw the connection between a lack of educational attainment and low incomes for families in its 17-county region. It was evident in how the region lagged behind both the state and the nation. Given its focus on regional community economic development – in addition to the more traditional focus on charitable giving and endowment building – the Foundation took action.

Click here to access the PowerPoint.

It engaged a set of partners including the community colleges, planning and development districts, other foundations, local units of government and private businesses. Together they identified the most important need that the foundation and its partners could address – funding and encouragement to pursue higher education. And, together they worked to address this gap through a tuition guarantee program. Any student who graduates from high school in the region can apply to the program and they will fill the gap between other sources of aid and the cost of a two-year degree. In total, 2,700 high school graduates have applied for assistance and 647 received the gap-financing needed to cover the remaining costs of their education. The other applicants were able to meet their tuition needs through other sources.

The future is looking brighter in northeast Mississippi. From 2000 to 2012, the percent of the population with some college education or higher increased from 38% to 47%. And as expected, income is following suit, increasing by over 50% during the same period. The Foundation and its collaborative partners are paving the way for low-income families to build their skills, grow their assets and achieve greater economic success. They are changing the culture from one of low expectations regarding education to one where attaining higher education is an achievable goal.

This educational attainment gap is not unique to northeast Mississippi. A study by Collegeboard shows the connection between educational attainment and income, suggesting that other community foundations can learn from the good work of the Create Foundation and explore their own leadership role in helping advance family and community economic success by helping more high school grads attain their next certificate or diploma!