Officials with the Greenwood Promise are hopeful that strong initial data, first reported by the Index-Journal three weeks ago, will convince potential donors that their contribution “is a good return on their investment.”
The data show post-secondary enrollment among Greenwood high school graduates surging while it continues to drop at the state level. The increase has been almost entirely in enrollment at Piedmont Technical College, the tuition of which is covered by Phase 1 of the Promise.
At an information session at the Gatewood Clubhouse Monday, Jim Pfeiffer, the former chair of the Promise’s fundraising committee, said that the County Council, which has been reluctant to make a recurring financial commitment to the Promise, may change its mind “with continued positive change” such as higher wages and property tax revenues.
Promise committee chairman Ron Millender said that he expects to see the greatest impact after enactment of Phase 2, which will cover the last two years’ tuition at Lander University. That, he said, will not only help Greenwood keep residents who would have otherwise left, but it will attract families who want their children to get a bachelor degree.
Their goal for Phase 2 is $10 million, more than twice what they have managed to raise thus far, which is just short of the $5 million needed to fund Phase 1 in perpetuity.
“I’ve been on the board of most nonprofits in Greenwood because I have a hard time saying no,” Millender said. “But they all treat the symptom a little bit. This one goes after the root cause.”
He shared a number of statistics about the structural changes in the job market that are already well underway and, he believes, point to the necessity of making higher education more accessible.
For example, only 47 percent of those without a high school diploma are currently employed in Greenwood County.
The promise will address this, he said, as students’ motivation to complete high school will get a boost from the fact that they will be able to get a degree debt-free.
“I don’t have tangible indicators of success in Greenwood County as of yet,” Millender said. “It takes some time to see the trickle-down impact of increasing the educational attainment level in the community.” He shared some of the benefits attributed to other promise programs, e.g. increased wages and property values. “I would expect to see similar results (in Greenwood) in these other indicators.”