Social Innovation Spotlight: Hartford Promise

Hartford Promise’s aim is to strengthen Hartford’s college going culture, increase student expectations, increase the number of Hartford students going to and graduating from college, and add to a larger, more qualified, local work force.

Our innovation is the Hartford Promise Integrated College Success Model, which provides Hartford Public High School (HPHS) students important financial resources (up to a $20,000 college scholarship), critical personal supports, transition services and key relationships, both in high school and at the college level, that lead to college success.

Frequently programs have one of these kinds of supports, but do not combine them all. For example, there are many scholarship programs, and many programs that either provide college-related supports in high schools or specific supports to college students. Combining these supports into one program, one integrated model, is the innovation, and we believe this combination of supports can make the difference for ultimate college success for more children in Hartford.

Education is not just another issue; a college degree is the most powerful force for accelerating economic growth, reducing poverty, and lifting living standards. Well educated adults earn more, live longer, and are happier. We know that by focusing on college success for the children of Hartford, we are promoting the health and well-being of Hartford children and families, and of the city of Hartford.

A robust solution for an urgent need

With only 23 percent of HPHS graduating seniors going on to complete a college degree in six years, Hartford Public Schools have an urgent need that requires immediate attention and a new approach. An under-educated community leads to an array of economic and social problems, which leads to a city that is not flourishing. The Hartford Promise Integrated College Success Model, based on sound research on college success for low-income first-generation minority students, is the most clear and direct way of addressing and reversing this problem.

The Integrated College Success Model is designed to ensure Hartford students have the same advantages and opportunities that all children deserve. It is focused on the main barrier to socioeconomic success: a college education. Hartford Promise’s innovation seeks to “level the playing field” for Hartford students and families, many of whom don’t have the resources or even the expectation to go on to college. In particular, the Integrated College Success Model is designed to markedly decrease the role that ‘luck’ plays in a student’s opportunities and success. This includes removing financial barriers with the scholarship, and recognizing that many Promise Scholars will be first-generation, low-income minority students, where the transition to college can be particularly difficult. The Model is designed to bring Promise Scholars the critical supports, transition services, and key relationships that research shows are integral to college success.

Core components

The core components of our Integrated College Success Model are:

  • Financial Scholarship: Our innovation provides sustained financial assistance for scholars to reduce the financial barriers of pursuing a college education.
  • Reaching Back: Engagement with School Districts and Schools – We engage with local school districts and individual schools, as well as individual students. Hartford Promise “Reaches Back” into the HPHS system, and works directly with the school administrations, teachers and counselors so that all Hartford students are aware of its scholarship and become college-aware and college-focused at the outset of their high school careers, and on track for college admission and success. Hartford Promise also assists with coordinating college access, preparation and support services to help Hartford high school students take advantage of all available resources. Research shows the earlier one can influence students and families to think and plan for college, the more likely students will graduate from high school, go to and be successful in college.
  • Reaching Forward: Engagement with Post-Secondary Institutions – We engage with colleges and universities to ensure every scholar is known and has access to the resources and services essential for their success. Hartford Promise “Reaches Forward” by building strong college and university partnerships to make sure every Promise Scholar is known and provided the transitional support and services proven to increase the likelihood for college success. This includes mentoring, peer-to-peer support networks, navigating college resources for students and parents, financial and career planning, and internship and other work opportunities. But it also includes building special partnerships that leverage our scholarship into additional student supports for our Promise Scholars. For example, UCONN, Eastern Connecticut, and University of Chicago will each match our Promise Scholarship, providing up to $5,000/year in additional financial support for Promise Scholars. The University of Saint Joseph and University of Hartford are both providing free housing for Promise Scholars, and CCSU is providing an additional $3,000 housing grant to Promise Scholars this year. Hartford Promise continues to build and expand these kinds of relationships as part of its “Reaching Forward” efforts.
  • Scholar Engagement: In order to best serve Promise Scholars, Hartford Promise works to get to know its Scholars, and to have them know us. This starts by meeting with students when they are in high school, and continues throughout college. It further includes Promise Scholar Day, a full day of programming, held in August, devoted to the transition from high school to college. It also includes making sure all Promise Scholars know that Hartford Promise is both a resource and a support system for them. Hartford Promise fields calls from students on a daily basis, and helps students navigate the complexities of college life, by connecting them to college resources and personnel, helping them to self-advocate, and self-advocating for them when needed.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: Hartford Promise collects baseline data and impact data for distinct populations: HPHS students, Promise college-going Scholars, and non-Promise students. Promise Scholar results will be compared to “non-promise going” Hartford students, to statewide data, and to national trends. Data points we measure include: percent of students accepted into college, how many students choose 4-year vs. 2-year colleges, full time vs. part time, resident vs. commuter, types of colleges, first-year and second-year persistence rates, and college success/degree completion.

Hartford Promise also incorporates student evaluations to further explain and understand its data. These evaluations coupled with the impact data collected will be used to inform programming to make sure our services and programming, in particular “Reaching Forward” and “Reaching Back,” are having the desired impact. This feedback will be used to ensure the impact of Hartford Promise on students and families yields systemic benefits to the students and the city of Hartford.

Structural requirements

The structural requirements of our Integrated College Success Model are:

Organizing Entity: Hartford Promise is the organizing entity for its Integrated College Success Model.

Diversified Funding Streams: A diversified funding stream is essential to support the infrastructure necessary to sustain Hartford Promise’s Integrated College Success Model of combined financial scholarships and relationship supports.

Release of Information: Communication between Hartford Promise (the organizing entity) and the institutions that support scholars is essential for the successful implementation of Hartford Promise’s Integrated College Success Model. Releases of Information enable Hartford Promise to communicate directly with a scholar’s college regarding academics, financial health, student life, and well-being. During the Scholar enrollment process, Hartford Promise has each student sign a Release of Information, allowing Hartford Promise to communicate directly with the student’s academic institution. The academic institutions (both high schools and colleges) also have the Scholars sign a release of information, enabling the institution to communicate directly with Hartford Promise. Per Hartford Promise’s requests, the academic institution shares semester reports regarding Hartford Scholars’ academic standing and participation in student life activities. Hartford Promise also has an important data sharing agreement with the Hartford Public School system.

What skills and characteristics do you think social innovators need to promote the optimal healthy development of children, strengthen families, and support communities?

Understanding the community, as well as its context and norms, is critical to developing community support & excitement. For example, it is important the community and surrounding communities understand the impact that Hartford Promise’s Integrated Model can have on all the stakeholders that make up Hartford and the Hartford region – including students, families, public schools, nearby colleges, as well as local corporations, businesses and other institutions. Having the skills and resources to educate the community about the power of Hartford Promise’s Integrated Model to expand the educational opportunities for the children of Hartford, and to add to a larger, stronger, more qualified local work force, will help build a sense of community pride and empowerment that can help lead to sustainability. Promise programs have served as important economic drivers in other cities, and can serve as an important economic driver in Hartford as well.

Why are you passionate about promoting the health and well-being of children, families, and communities?

There is a traditional greeting of the Masai tribe in Kenya: “How are the children?” The answer to this question tells you everything you need to know. It recognizes the high value their society places on its children’s well-being; when the children are well, so is the society they live in.

Hartford Promise is passionate about the education, health and well-being of Hartford children, because we know when the children are well, Hartford will be well. If we can help more children in Hartford reach higher, and attain college success, then we know that the children, and their children, will be well. Indeed, there is strong data telling us that higher education and college success more than anything else improves health outcomes, improves social outcomes such as family composition, home ownership, incidents of crime and addiction, and eliminates the impact of poverty generally. These are all key factors that can create more stable, vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods and communities, especially here in Hartford. We are passionate about the children, because we know when they succeed, the communities they live in succeed. The children need to be well.

What value did you gain from engaging with Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program?

Hartford Promise is extremely grateful to the Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program. We deeply value their longstanding experience in the field of prevention and service to children, their thoughtfulness and depth of inquiry, and their grounding in strong research. The time they were willing to give us, and their extensive thoughtful analysis of our work, was invaluable to help us look at our program more clearly, appreciate the innovation of our Integrated Model more fully, and help us crystallize the strength of our message about what we do and why it matters.

What advice do you have for social innovators promoting the health and well-being of children, families and communities?

Hartford Promise President Richard Sugarman offers the following advice:

  • Always remember the key question: How are the children?
  • Be bold – try new things, have clear ways to measure the effectiveness of what you try, revise where necessary, and try again.
  • Engage those not typically engaged.
  • Be an active and learning listener.
  • Raise more than enough money.
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