RICHMOND -- City leaders, schools officials and students are celebrating a $35 million, 10-year program that will guarantee that every Richmond public school student who graduates from high school will receive full tuition to attend college.
The program is part of a package of $90 million in community grants from Chevron Corp. as part of its recent agreement with the city on the terms of a $1 billion upgrade to its Richmond oil refinery.
The program's objectives go beyond paying for college to transforming Richmond students' visions of their futures, said Councilman Jim Rogers at a news conference to announce the program Thursday on the Kennedy High School campus.
"This is not just about giving checks to kids; it's about getting kids to want to go to college," Rogers said.
The money will also be an incentive and morale booster for Richmond teachers, said West Contra Costa school district board member Randy Enos.
"Teachers do better when they understand that what they're doing means something," said Enos, a retired district teacher and administrator.
The program, known as Richmond Promise, was the idea of first-term Councilman Jael Myrick and is based on similar promise programs in other cities nationwide.
Councilman Tom Butt cited the results of a $50 million program in Arkansas, El Dorado Promise, which was funded by a local oil company.
Butt said that before El Dorado Promise began, the city of El Dorado was losing jobs and population, and the number of high school graduates going on to college was about the state average of 53 percent.
Seven years later, things have turned around. The population of El Dorado is increasing, and about 90 percent of graduating seniors are attending college, Butt said.
"Our smartest students won't need this because they get a boatload of (scholarship) money anyway," Butt said. "But this can raise the expectations of someone who might have been a C student to become an A or B student."
Kennedy sophomore Precious Haynes said the scholarships will eliminate the problem of students dropping out of college because they don't have the money to continue.
It will also eliminate the excuse of students not preparing for college because they can't afford it, she said.
"Getting into college is only half the battle; staying in and succeeding is the other half," Haynes said.
Myrick said the city and Chevron are looking for a nonprofit agency to administer the money. It is uncertain when the scholarship program will begin because Chevron will release the community grants only after it receives final legal approval to begin its refinery upgrade, he said.
The $35 million will be coming from Chevron over a 10-year period, after which sponsors hope to access "substantial additional money" to continue it, Butt said.