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EDITORIAL: Lessons from promising kids a free college ride

If we give young people a leg up and something meaningful to work toward, many will rise to the challenge.

Thaddous Daniel, Gideon Coble, Javier Terrazas, and Janay Taylor, all students participating in the TomorrowÕs Promise scholarship program, after graduating from Concordia University, River Forest, Saturday, May, 11th, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Tim
From left, Thaddous Daniel, Gideon Coble, Javier Terrazas and Janay Taylor all participated in the Tomorrow’s Promise scholarship program and recently graduated from Concordia University in River Forest.
James Foster/For the Sun-Times

It was the opportunity of a lifetime for 22 middle school students in west suburban Bellwood.

In 2008, a local bank and a nearby university made a dramatic promise to the students at low-income Roosevelt Middle School: Earn good grades, graduate from high school and you’ll have a free ride to four years of college.

Looking back, Javier Terrazas still can’t believe it. “It was surreal,” he recently told Sun-Times reporter Manny Ramos.

Eleven years later, it would be great to write a Hollywood ending to the story of Tomorrow’s Promise, the initiative forged by Fifth Third Bank with Concordia University.

But the stark reality, as Ramos’ story points out, is that most of the 22 students didn’t make it. They dropped out of high school, took a job to support family, or otherwise just disappeared.

Many low-income students of color don’t make it through college, research shows, even when money is no longer a barrier. They lose out on their dreams, and our society loses out on their talents.

The five students who did graduate, and three more who are on track to do so, are worth celebrating all the more. Someone offered them a leg up and a goal worth working toward, and they rose to the challenge.

Terrazas earned a degree in mathematics, and we bet plenty of tech companies would be glad to hire him. Thaddous Daniel got a degree in exercise science and wants to become a nurse. Janay Taylor, a biology major, plans to attend medical school. Gideon Coble has a business degree and wants to open a chain of barbershops.

There’s a ripple effect when we push kids to set their sights high. Brianna Earskine didn’t enroll at Concordia, but she won a full scholarship to the University of Illinois at Chicago and graduated with a degree in biochemistry. The program, she said, “helped me stay focused on my work.”

What about the kids who didn’t make it? High schools must do more for students who are not headed to a four-year school. They deserve a path to success, too, like career training so they can get a decent job.

Fifth Third spent $1.57 million on Tomorrow’s Promise and says the results were worth the investment.

Without a doubt.

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