College Enrollments Increase Dramatically With Pokagon Band Support

New Buffalo, MI, April 25, 2017 -- The number of Harbor Country® graduates enrolling in post-secondary institutions has increased dramatically in the past 10 years.  At New Buffalo High School the percentage of enrollees grew from 31% in 2008 to an average of over 88% from 2010 to 2016.  Similar increases are reported at River Valley High School where 83% of 2016’s graduating students progressed to college in 2016, up from 42% in 2007.  

Paralleling the rise in college admission rates in the past decade have been the monthly Pokagon Band distributions into the local community of Four Winds Casino revenues, either through The Pokagon Fund as philanthropic investments or the Local Revenue Sharing Board as municipal payouts.  Significantly, the Bison-Pokagon Scholarship Trust (recently renamed the New Buffalo Educational Trust) has received over $9,000,000 in lieu of taxes.

These distributions, a percentage of which have been offered to students and adults as educational scholarships, have not only encouraged college enrollment, but have also moderated the impact of exponential increases in the cost of higher education.  

A review of the “all-in” 2016-2017 school year costs of in-state tuition, fees, books and supplies plus room and board, at a few Michigan colleges provides an eye-opening confirmation of the substantiality of annual post-secondary education costs: 

* Michigan State University  $27,290, 

* Grand Valley State University $23,066, 

* Kalamazoo College $57,116, 

* Lake Michigan College (without room and board included) $10,050.

 “These costs are issues of major concern to our local school districts,” commented River Valley High School Guidance Counselor Paul Goodman. “The biggest hindrance to my students attending the college of their choice is cost.  The cost of tuition and room and board can be discouraging, and no one should face that kind of debt so early in life.”  

Indeed, this year’s Harbor Country high school graduates who are moving forward with post-secondary education plans confront a potential financial burden unlike anything faced by the generations before them. 

For parents who “worked their way through college”, the realization that such an option is now lost to their children is confounding. According to a 2012 Bloomberg News report, college tuition and fees have increased an astonishing 1,120% since 1978.  The report shows the rate of increase in college costs at “four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index.” 

Former US Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa who served as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee told Bloomberg News that “Soaring tuition and shrinking incomes are making college less and less affordable…For millions of young people, rising college costs are putting the American dream on hold, or out of reach.” 

One avenue of financing a college education for many is student loans. Going that route may be necessary, but it is perilous and often life-changing. The PBS NewsHour series, “How the Deck is Stacked” reported that Americans hold $1.3 trillion in student debt, a number that is only increasing, and low-income students are among the most in debt.

About 40 million people have student debt today, up from 29 million in 2008, according to the report.  While the majority of borrowers owed about $25,000, PBS noted that people who owe less than $10,000 are the most likely to default because many never finished school and won’t reap a pay increase from a college degree.  

Fortunately for local graduates, The Pokagon Fund and Bison-Pokagon Scholarships have contributed more than $4,700,000 over the past decade toward mitigating the financial burden of school debt for Harbor Country® families Nevertheless, there are signs that the cost of a college education may be impacting the decisions of local high school seniors to apply to a four year college immediately upon graduation. As suggested by Senator Harkin these young people may be “putting the American dream on hold.” 

In 2016, the percentage of eligible New Buffalo High School students who used the available Bison-Pokagon scholarship funds dropped from 90% to 79%.  Similarly, the number of applicants for The Pokagon Fund’s student scholarships dropped from an average of 10 per year to just 5 student applicants in 2017. One explanation may lie in the decision of some graduates to delay post-secondary education or to find alternative uses for the available scholarship funds.  

According to Denise Tuszynski who administers the finances of the New Buffalo Educational Trust on behalf of the New Buffalo Area Schools, many students have chosen to attend a two year community college while others are using scholarship funds to get certified training in specific skills.

“The goal of the trust’s scholarship program is employment for our graduates by means of a college degree or a certification. For example, we recently had a graduate who used scholarship funds to get a Welding Certificate”, said Ms. Tuszynski. Moreover, she stated that, “the benefits of having scholarship funds available can be multiplied if an eligible New Buffalo High School graduate chooses to obtain additional certificates in other skilled areas. Eligibility for awards up to the maximum amount of individual funding available continues for a ten year period after graduation. Of course, scholarships for attending a four year college remain an option.”  

The continuing interest in post-secondary education in the years following high school is reflected in the growing number of Adult Scholarships awarded by The Pokagon Fund in 2017.

 “The Fund approved over $65,000 in scholarships to 12 adult applicants this past March” reported Janet Cocciarelli, the Fund’s Executive Director. “Just as New Buffalo High School has been open to provide funding for certificates in skilled areas, the Fund has made similar awards, such as for training to obtain a Michigan builders license or to receive certification as a professional truck driver, in addition to the traditional adult scholarships for college degrees.”

Familiarizing high school students with the various educational options available to them so that they can make informed decisions about attending college has also been a major thrust of ongoing programs by local school districts and The Pokagon Fund.  The Pokagon Fund began partnering in 2010 with local schools to provide students early access to college and university campuses through field trips that will assist them in determining which colleges are the best “fit” for them, both financially and academically.

 “One of the district’s primary jobs is to familiarize pupils with college options and foster an understanding of the value and cost of a post-secondary education, which is why we consider The Pokagon Fund support of our college visitation program to be essential,” said New Buffalo High School Guidance Counselor Lisa Price. 

Recently, the New Buffalo Area School has changed their program allowing all four class levels to travel together on college visitations. Last October, over 200 students toured Grand Valley State University on two consecutive days.  “The annual trip to a college campus was inspiring and students returned from these trips with a different outlook on their high school years,” stated one teacher.   

River Valley High School annually gives each of its classes, freshmen through seniors, the opportunity to visit different campuses.  During the 2015-2016 school year, 9th graders visited Grand Valley State University, 10th graders visited Western Michigan University, 11th graders visited Notre Dame University and seniors travelled to both Lake Michigan College and Southwestern Michigan College. As explained by a River Valley administrator, “The goal was to inspire freshmen through seniors to strive for excellence in order to attend a great university, and the seniors could see how an excellent community college could help in circumstances of financial strain.” 

Attaining higher education for many Harbor Country® high school students has now moved from a dream to a reality.  The Pokagon Fund’s support for scholarships and college visitation Bus Trips has helped to put a focus on that reality.  The future is with our youth and support for education remains a key focus of the Fund.  

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