By Joyce Tsai
OAKLAND — City and school leaders unveiled an ambitious plan Thursday to triple the number of low-income students who graduate college by providing support through college savings accounts, scholarships and pacts with colleges to provide free or partial tuition.
The pep-rally-like launch of the Oakland Promise initiative — held under a big white tent on the Oakland High School football field — drew a who’s who of Oakland civic and education leaders, as well as U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and University of California President Janet Napolitano.
“We are making this promise today, the Oakland Promise,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf, surrounded by an arch of colorful balloons. “It’s time to end the tyranny of low expectations. It’s time we break down the barriers to hope that have been keeping down our kids for too long.”
The plan will open 55,000 college savings accounts for Oakland children, invest $100 million in college scholarships and serve nearly 200,000 students and families across Oakland, as well as triple the number of college graduates from Oakland in the next 10 years, according to a news release. About 67 percent of Oakland’s students graduate from high school, and about 71 percent of the district’s students are low-income, Oakland Unified Superintendent Antwan Wilson said. The Promise vision is to boost the graduation rate to 85 percent by 2020, he said.
Approximately $25 million has been raised so far toward funding the first four years of the program, which is estimated to cost $38 million. Schaaf urged others throughout the community to donate and make a difference.
To realize the ambitious goals, the city and the school district will partner with more than 100 community groups and nonprofits to provide a broad array of resources for the city’s most disenfranchised students.
Highlights of the robust initiative include the Brilliant Baby program, to provide a $500 college savings account to every baby born into poverty in the city. Another highlight promises that every Oakland student entering kindergarten will have a universal college savings account opened in his or her name with a starting amount of $100, and matching funds provided to help families save for their children’s college tuition.
In addition, a slew of scholarships would be offered to low-income students through a partnership with East Bay College Fund. The effort would, within a decade, offer every qualifying student a college scholarship of $1,000 to $16,000 over the course of his or her college career.