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Can Rockford Promise lift future students out of college debt?

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Can Rockford Promise lift future students out of college debt?

Rockford is in the bottom quartile of the United States when it comes to its college graduates struggling with education debt.

WalletHub.com studied loan documents of college graduates in 2,400 cities in the U.S. The credit and financial education site calculated the median student debt in those cities, the median earnings of college graduates and then calculated the debt to earnings ratio.

Rockford did not grade well. It is in the 75th percentile, or bottom quarter when it comes to students having to struggle to meet their obligations.

The median student loan debt in Rockford was $18,562, which ranks in the lower half, but WalletHub calculated the median earnings of Rockford college graduates to be just $43,016. That equated to a debt-to-earnings ratio of 43.15%.

The city where students have it best in terms of debt? That would be Gilroy, California, a city of about 50,000 in Santa Clara County. Gilroy is known as the “Garlic Capital of the World” because farmers there grow so much of it and celebrate it with the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.

According to WalletHub, the median student loan debt in Gilroy was $12,297, but the median income of college graduates was $78,558. That calculated out to a debt-to-income ratio of 15.65%.

Rock River Valley cities

City

Median Student Debt

Median Earnings

Debt-to-Earnings Ratio

Machesney Park

$16,762

$56,607

29.61%

Janesville, Wis.

$15,461

$47,576

32.50%

Freeport

$16,945

$44,226

38.13%

Beloit, Wis.

$15,446

$35,423

43.60%

Loves Park

$21,922

$51,032

42.96%

Rockford

$18,562

$43,016

43.15%

·        No data for Belvidere or Rochelle

Cities Where Students Have MOST Debt-to-Earnings

City

Median Student Debt

Median Earnings

Debt-to-Earnings Ratio

Coors Bay, Oregon

$22,232

$31,635

70.28%

College Park, Ga.

$27,846

$39,489

70.51%

Loma Linda, Calif.

$35,885

$50,822

70.61%

Portsmouth, Ohio

$19,415

$27,270

71.19%

Orange City, Fla.

$19,357

$27,153

71.29%

Park Forest, Ill.

$27,349

$37,734

72.48%

Athens, Ga.

$22,471

$30,880

72.77%

Hamtramck, Mich.

$19,680

$26,902

73.15%

Bloomington, Ind.

$20,804

$26,788

77.66%

Ypsilanti, Mich.

$24,339

$28,558

85.23%

Cities Where Students Have LEAST Debt-to-Earnings

City

Median Student Debt

Median Earnings

Debt-to-Earnings Ratio

Gilroy, Calif.

$12,297

$78,558

15.65%

Winchester, Mass.

$14,344

$86,446

16.59%

Santa Paula, Calif.

$11,462

$67,835

16.90%

Elko, Nevada

$10,575

$61,569

17.18%

Sammamish, Wash.

$17,559

$98,032

17.91%

Greenburg, Ind.

$9,678

$50,466

19.18%

Lincoln, Calif.

$12,696

$64,738

19.61%

Lake Jackson, Texas

$13,523

$67,125

20.15%

Sunnyvale, Calif.

$16,967

$83,737

20.26%

San Juan, Texas

$9,374

$46,214

20.28%

On Saturday night, there is a fundraiser that can help a few Rockford Public Schools students – and someday hopefully all District 205 students – avoid that college loan anchor that is only worsening the income gap between upper-income graduates with the middle- and lower-class graduates.

Rockford Promise is holding its second “Raise The Roof” fundraiser. This one takes place on the stage of Rock Valley College’s Starlight Theatre. Last year, Rockford Promise raised enough money to fund 10 full scholarships for Rockford Public Schools graduates. The goal this year is to raise enough money to fund 20.

The goal is to eventually raise enough money to be able to fund the college education of all District 205 graduates. That will take years. For now, the program focuses on two of the poorest areas of Rockford, students from the Midtown and Ellis Heights neighborhoods.

Rockford Promise is part of a growing movement that was started by the Kalamazoo Promise in Michigan. In that city, several wealthy families came together and donated enough money that the program pays the college tuition of every Kalamazoo Public Schools graduate who attends a Michigan college or university.

There are now 220 Promise programs across the U.S., according to collegepromise.org. Most are similar to Rockford Promise in that they don’t have the deep-pocketed families to make large enough donations to fund all and instead have to do yearly fundraisers to continue to build the nest egg.

That’s what makes Saturday’s event so crucial. In 2016, Rockford Promise raised $45,000 at its Raise the Roof fundraiser. Tickets cost $100 per person and include games and prizes, live music, appetizers by Greenfire, a cash bar and silent auction items. Go to Rockfordpromise.org/take-action/ to learn more and buy tickets.

Of all the programs that Transform Rockford has identified that could Transform Rockford, Rockford Promise is among the most promising. It has the potential to flip what has long been identified as a negative into a positive. Business executives have for years said it was difficult to recruit companies to locate here because of poor test scores of Rockford Public Schools.

Whether you believe that criticism is fair or more the result of upper-income families choosing to move from Rockford or to send their children to private schools is irrelevant. Perception equals reality. But if Rockford Promise grows to the point where every District 205 graduate who chooses to go to college in Illinois has at least part of his or her college tuition covered then Rockford Public Schools becomes a recruiting tool.

 

 


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