December 2, 2022

College Program Aids Low-Income Students

Cynthia Barnett | 6/1/2008

DeSean Kirkland
UNF music major DeSean Kirkland, 18, is one of the first Jacksonville Commitment scholarship recipients. "Instead of working a job and taking out student loans," he says, "all I’ve got to do is work hard in class, be on task and stay on track." [Photo: Kelly LaDuke]
Jacksonville native DeSean Kirkland wasn’t all that optimistic when he applied to the University of North Florida. He had the grades for college, but not the money. Higher education, he figured, would look something like this: Get a job, start community college part time, take out student loans “and graduate someday with back-breaking debt.”

When a UNF admissions official called him this spring to offer a full scholarship, “it felt just like I had won the lottery,” Kirkland says. “And you should have seen my mom. She called everyone she knew like she won the lottery.”

The call came thanks to a new project called the Jacksonville Commitment that guarantees the full cost of college to any low-income public high school graduate in Duval County who meets admissions standards.

Other cities have similar programs funded by individual philanthropists and companies, but the Jacksonville Commitment appears to be the most ambitious such effort to date, and the only one in Florida. It includes four colleges — UNF, Jacksonville University, Edward Waters College and Florida Community College at Jacksonville — and pays the entire cost of a four-year degree: Tuition, books, meals and housing.

Jacksonville is providing initial funding, and Mayor John Peyton has pledged another $1 million next fiscal year. The four local colleges are raising private money to create a long-term endowment for the program, which also funds high school counselors.

Former Sheriff Nat Glover helped conceive the project. UNF President John Delaney hired Glover as the city’s “higher education ambassador” in 2006 and assigned him to figure out how to increase Duval’s college-education rate as an economic-development and anti-crime measure. Jacksonville is the murder capital of Florida, says Glover. It is also one of the 10 U.S. metro areas with the lowest share of college graduates, according to the College Board.

“Too many high school students don’t think a college degree is possible,” says Glover. “The Jacksonville Commitment is our way of getting them to believe that they can and they will go to college. Eliminating the cost barrier is a huge part of that.”

Tags: Northeast, Education

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