Rockford Promise program a big hit with District 205 graduates

Izzy Rundall is a child development major and participant in the Rockford Promise program at Northern Illinois University. (NIU photo)

Rockford Promise participants like Izzy Rundall are excelling at Northern Illinois University.

“NIU is a great school, it’s close to home, and this program is very beneficial and definitely has affected me in a positive way,” said Rundall, a Rockford District 205 graduate now in her second year at NIU and majoring in child development.

“Rockford Promise has had a big impact on me because it takes a big thing off your shoulder, being able to go to school and not worry about debt,” she added.

NIU’s Rockford Promise scholars are on the rise, with grades trending upward each completed semester. New data show these students have boosted their overall grade point average from 3.04 in fall 2022, to 3.21 in spring 2023, to 3.26 in fall 2023.

This program provides eligible Rockford Public School District 205 graduates with scholarships and grants to pay for tuition and general fees for up to four years at NIU.

Since its beginning in the fall of 2021, the partnership between NIU, the Rockford Promise organization, Rockford Public Schools and the City of Rockford has proven to be a success according to students, university and program representatives as well as city leaders.

A deadline for the next year’s Rockford Promise is rapidly approaching. A Rockford Promise Scholarship application for the 2024-25 school year must be completed by March 1.

“Educational attainment and a city’s success are intertwined,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. “The Rockford Promise NIU Scholarship increases the number of people in Rockford with a college degree, increases property values – because every home now comes with free tuition – and, most importantly, provides hope to our residents who once faced a financial barrier to their educational goals.

“NIU has been a terrific partner ensuring our scholars feel welcome, engaged and valued when on campus, and this was demonstrated by our students averaging a 3.26 GPA last fall.”

Since the partnership began in fall 2021, NIU has welcomed 337 Rockford Promise students. During the fall 2023 semester, 275 students participated in the program with 59 percent students of color and 68 percent first-generation college students.

“Rockford Promise has been an extremely successful partnership, helping us deliver on our commitment to provide access to college degrees, reduce barriers such as financial debt and create opportunities for students to build networks to embark upon successful and rewarding careers,” said Nichole Knutson, NIU’s associate vice provost for Student Success. “It has been a privilege to watch these students grow and develop into successful college students over the past three years. We are looking forward to graduating our first class of Rockford Promise Huskies and to welcoming in many more cohorts of high school graduates to the NIU community.”

In addition to the scholarship, Rockford Promise and NIU work together to provide success teams to support students both in and out of the classroom.

Sam Baker, a special projects advisor for NIU, serves as a student advocate and is often the first point of contact for incoming and current students.

“We see the students at orientation and help answer their questions,” said Baker. “We build a relationship with the students to make sure they feel comfortable.”

Rundall speaks highly of her interaction with members of support staff from both NIU and Rockford Promise organization.

“They help you through things if you need it. If you go to them and say, ‘I’m really struggling to get work done this week’ they give you positive advice and tips to get that work done.”

To be eligible for Rockford Promise at NIU, a student must:

  • Have attended a Rockford Public School high school since Nov. 10, 2020, and are eligible to graduate from a Rockford Public School in 2024 with a minimum cumulative high school GPA of 3.0.
  • Have applied for fall 2024 admission to NIU and filed a FAFSAor the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid by the priority deadline of Feb. 1.
  • Live within City of Rockford boundaries.