The room buzzed at last Monday’s launch of the second annual Richmond Promise scholarship, a Chevron-supported program for college-bound Richmond high school students.
Students and families gathered at Civic Center Plaza for a workshop about the new scholarship and other sources of financial aid, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the California Dream Act. Richmond Promise manager Jessica Rodriguez and Richmond Promise executive director Jessie Stewart circulated around the room to answer questions as students filled out applications.
The Richmond Promise application is the most straightforward of the three. Each applicant must verify that they are a resident of Richmond and attended a school within the West Contra Costa Unified School District boundary area from at least 9th through 12th grade.
Every Richmond high school student who meets those requirements and submits a FAFSA or Dream Act application can receive $1,500 per year for up to four years to aid with college expenses. The Richmond Promise application is online and takes minutes to complete.
The Richmond Promise initiative, which launched in January 2016, is a product of the Chevron Refinery Modernization Project Environmental and Community Investment Agreement, in which the company agreed to make significant contributions to the local community in exchange for permission to begin a $1 billion refinery modernization project.
In the agreement, Chevron pledged to pay $80 million over ten years to support a range of programs, including job training, public safety and greenhouse gas reduction programs. Thirty-five of the $80 million was earmarked specifically for youth scholarships, and has since become the Richmond Promise scholarship program.
“I think it’s an interesting program,” said Juan Conrique, an 18-year-old student from De Anza high school. “Parents worry about money costs, so this is a great way to help.”
His father Octavio Conrique, a construction worker from Guadalajara, Mexico, said he is worried about affording college for his two sons. He said he plans to use the money to help Juan attend the Universal Technical Institute, which has campuses in Sacramento and Long Beach, so that he can become an automotive technician.
(After the event, Stewart said that the Richmond Promise scholarship cannot be used for tuition at for-profit schools.)
Promise initiatives exist across the country. The Richmond Promise was inspired by similar ventures in Kalamazoo, Michigan and El Dorado, Arkansas, whose program is also sponsored by a large energy corporation, Murphy Oil. Both programs claim to have boosted college attendance rates and their local economies.
In contrast to the Richmond Promise program, however, those programs cover the majority of in-state college tuition. For students who have been in district schools continuously since kindergarten, the Kalamazoo and El Dorado programs match up to 100 percent of the highest in-state university tuition costs, often in the range of $8,000 per year for each student.
Stewart said she is aware that the Richmond Promise’s $1,500 per year makes barely a dent in the current costs of higher education, even at local schools.
It’s not the size of the scholarship that is most important, she said, but what that scholarship stands for.
“Knowing that you have a community of support,” she said, is essential for students who are unsure about pursuing a college degree. The $1,500 is a symbol of that support, letting students know that the Richmond community stands behind them.
Last spring, Richmond Promise awarded scholarships to 384 graduating high school seniors, although only 285 students claimed their award as of September, said Stewart. She attributed this to students’ plans changing over the summer.
This year, Stewart estimates that more than 800 students will be eligible for the scholarship.
Richmond Promise will hold six more application workshops between now and the application deadline in March.
An earlier version of this story said that “Promise” stood for “Promoting Readiness of Minors in Supplemental Security Income.” This acronym is for a program run by the U.S. Department of Education and is not related to the Richmond Promise program. The article has also been updated to include the following information: Richmond’s Promise program is for students in public, private and charter schools; it is supported by Chevron payments, not donations; and it does not support students in for-profit universities or colleges.