For five local high school seniors, college is now free.
The students, inaugural graduates of the new Asbury Park College Promise program at Asbury Park High School (APHS), will pay no tuition or fees this fall when they enroll at Brookdale Community College. For their first two years, or up to 64 college credits, the students will receive a last-dollar scholarship covering all tuition and fees not funded by other grants or scholarships.
The funding is the capstone of the College Promise program, an initiative launched in September that provides APHS students with comprehensive college readiness training throughout their junior and senior years. Students complete advanced courses in math, English and reading while participating in an “Achievement Motivation” seminar and preparing for the Accuplacer college entrance exam.
Students who successfully complete the program receive a Brookdale scholarship allowing them to effectively earn an associate degree or certificate with zero tuition. The scholarships are funded by a $240,000 grant from the Jules L. Plangere, Jr., Family Foundation to the Brookdale Foundation.
On June 6, district and college representatives came together at the high school to congratulate the inaugural cohort of College Promise students, which included the five graduating seniors along with seven APHS juniors.
“We are truly in an educational renaissance here,” said APHS vice principal Angela Thomas, addressing the students. “There is such a great partnership going on in our community, with Brookdale Community College in particular, where everybody is pushing for you to succeed. As the first members to complete this College Promise program, you are the future. We are so proud of you all.”
Students received certificates of achievement and were recognized by a variety of college and district officials, including Matthew Reed, Brookdale vice president for learning; Brian Stokes, APHS district supervisor of college and career programs; Franklyn Rother, Brookdale dean of K-12 partnerships; and Margaret Agha, 2016-17 program manager for the College Promise initiative.
“The idea of free college isn’t a new one,” said Reed. “But it has receded in the past few decades. According to some people, if you make college free, people won’t take it as seriously. Some people believe that it won’t work because our students have changed. And what I want to say to you is, thank you for proving them wrong. Just because you’re not paying for your education, it doesn’t mean you don’t need it or that you won’t work for it or that you aren’t going to make us proud. You’ve already made us proud, and we’re willing to bet you will continue to make us proud.”
Anahi Ramirez-Meza, a graduating senior pursuing a career in clinical psychology, said the College Promise scholarship will allow her to avoid to student loan debt and begin saving money for an advanced degree during her first two years of college.
But the most significant benefit of program, she said, came from the training itself.
“If I didn’t take these classes, I would not have passed my Accuplacer [entrance exam],” said Ramirez-Meza, 18. “At the beginning of the program, we took the Accuplacer and I failed all of the sections. Now, as of today, I have passed every section. And I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for everyone in this room right now. I would like to say thank you to everybody here.
“I feel much more prepared to enter the college life,” she added. “I also feel a little bit nervous, because I know that I am receiving free tuition, and for myself I know that I will need to achieve good grades and high scores. I want to earn what I am being given here.”
Those sentiments were echoed by APHS junior Rose Andre, who also performed the Star Spangled Banner during the ceremony.
“I stress a lot, but this promise program really helped me not to stress so much,” said APHS junior Rose Andre, an aspiring pediatrician. “I was surrounded by people who really cared and helped me, who took their time for me. It was amazing. I’ve never found anything like that before. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.”
The Asbury Park College Promise is funded by the Jules L. Plangere Jr. Family Foundation, which was established in 1997 by Jules L. Plangere Jr., the former chairman of New Jersey Press Inc., publisher of the Asbury Park Press and former senior partner of Press Communications, LLC and PMCM TV, LLC. Mr. Plangere passed away in spring 2017.
The Plangere Foundation is primarily funded by contributions from Jules L. Plangere, Jr. and his wife Jane W. Plangere. The Plangere Foundation supports education, medicine and healthcare, culture, human needs, public policy, the environment and is a qualified 501(c)(3) corporation. The Trustees of the Plangere Foundation are: Jane W. Plangere, Jules L. Plangere, III, Jack Conover, Nicole A. Colantoni, E. Donald Lass and Alfred D. Colantoni.
To learn more about the Asbury Park College Promise, visit the Asbury Park High School website.
Check out more photos of the Asbury Park College Promise recognition ceremony here.