Small Fraction of Students Qualify for Birmingham Promise Scholarship

 1565942898 
1580223561

Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring announces Birmingham Promise scholarship with Mayor Randall Woodfin and UAB President Ray L. Watts.

Janae Pierre, WBHM

For urban students interested in college, tuition can be a major barrier. So when it was announced recently that the Birmingham Promise would offer a full tuition scholarship to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, many praised the partnership as a way to give eligible Birmingham graduates a much-needed financial boost. But there’s just one problem: most students aren’t eligible to apply for the scholarship at UAB.

Eighteen-year-old Justin Smith is among those who are. He’ll attend UAB this fall. The Wenonah High School senior has big dreams. 

“I plan on majoring in political science, maybe taking up a minor in journalism or psychology,” Smith says. “And my future plans are to go to law school but I do plan on running for president one day, about 30 years from here.”

His grades and test scores earned him a few scholarships, including the Birmingham Promise. That’ll cover his UAB tuition.

Janae Pierre,WBHM
Wenonah High School Senior Justin Smith.

“If it wasn’t for the Birmingham Promise, I probably wouldn’t be going to UAB because, you know, the prices are a little steep,” Smith says.

Tuition at UAB is about $10,000 per year for in-state students; that doesn’t include books, housing or a meal plan. Smith hopes the other scholarships will help cover the extra costs. 

The Birmingham Promise offers Birmingham City Schools seniors full tuition at any in-state public two-year or four-year college or university. But students must meet an institution’s academic admission requirements. To qualify for the scholarship at UAB, students must score at least a 20 on the ACT and have a minimum 2.75 GPA. 

That’s two things most of the system’s students don’t have. Out of about 1,200 high school seniors, only a tiny fraction qualify for the scholarship to UAB. According to Lisa Herring, superintendent of Birmingham schools, over 100 students are eligible. Herring says that’s a number she hopes will increase in the coming years. 

“We are 100% wedded to making certain that as that population grows and we have an influence on that, we’ll have other opportunities for them to explore how to be successful,” she says. 

Some of those opportunities don’t include college. Herring points to the Birmingham Promise apprenticeship, which matches students with regional employers so they can gain first-hand experience in business, finance and other areas. 

Martha Kanter was U.S. Undersecretary of Education under former President Barack Obama’s administration. Now, Kanter is executive director of the College Promise Campaign, an organization that monitors promise scholarships across the nation. She says the bar might seem high for the Birmingham Promise scholarship, but eligibility requirements could change. 

Kanter says for Birmingham, this is just a starting place.

“If you set a 2.75 or 3.0, you’re going to have more success stories and maybe that’s the starting place,” she says. “In the next couple of years maybe you can go down because you can guarantee a mentor for every student.”

Take the Tennessee Promise, where the GPA requirement is only a 2.0. Kanter says there, universities also match incoming students with a mentor. 

She says most times, students just need to get their foot in the door. 

A UAB spokesperson said in an email the university offers tutoring and other resources for students. Officials say there are in talks with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and city school officials to add more robust student support services. 

The Birmingham Promise offers tuition scholarships to the state’s public two-year and four-year public colleges and universities. Alabama’s two-year public colleges have no minimum grade requirements for admission. Students must meet minimum grade requirements at other state higher education institutions.

“You’re seeing results where students are progressing at faster rates and they have clearer pathways,” Kanter says. “Even though the criteria is going to be different in these promise programs, it’s all about the results.” 

Herring, the Birmingham schools superintendent, says the system is doing its best to prepare students for the future. She says the Birmingham Promise has created an awareness in several students who now see a future that’s attainable and debt-free. 

So far, it seems to be working. Smith, the Wenonah High School senior, says almost a dozen students in his class will become freshmen at UAB in the fall. Last year, there was only one.

Editor Note: The University of Alabama at Birmingham holds WBHM’s broadcast license. But the news and business departments operate independently. 
Editorial Correction on Jan. 28, 2020 – An earlier version of this story said UAB tuition was $10,000 per semester; it’s $10,000 per year. And a clarification that the Birmingham Promise applies to two-year and four-year public in-state universities. For more information on tuition assistance through the Birmingham Promise, visit the program’s FAQ page.

 

Local health officials plan to increase monkeypox vaccinations

Health officials will soon begin offering intradermal vaccinations, reaching more people with less vaccine.

Combating gun violence remains a top focus of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

As violent crime in Birmingham and the surrounding area continues to increase, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Prim Escalona, uses a variety of tools and strategies to get firearms and bad guys off the street.

Some 3rd graders in local schools could be held back under new law 

This is the first school year that third graders who do not read at grade level by the end of the school year must be held back in that grade, rather than passed on to fourth grade. The Alabama Literacy Act was passed several years ago, but its implementation was delayed because of the pandemic.

How one Birmingham custodian preps for the first day of school

When the kids are away, the custodial and maintenance staff in schools work all summer long. One custodian told WBHM about what it takes to keep the kids happy and healthy as they trade sunshine for fluorescent lights.

Dollar store workers are organizing for a better workplace. Just don’t call it a union.

Fired up by a labor movement that’s seen big union victories recently, dollar store workers are organizing in their own way to improve work conditions.

Bill Clark has a knack for making comebacks. Will he make one more? 

Bill Clark has had to overcome some serious hurdles during his career at UAB, as well as in his personal life. He not only resurrected a football program that had been neglected—and then out-right killed—he’s also been fighting through what he’s called a serious injury since childhood.

More Birmingham Promise Coverage