GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The opportunity to attend college for free will now be available to even more students who attend Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Organizers announced Wednesday that Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s Challenge Scholars program will provide eligible students who graduate from Union High School with a GPA of 2.0 or higher with up to two years of free tuition at Grand Rapids Community College.

“This is an enhancement, an addition to what we can help motivate students, parents, teachers. It’s making sure our students have equity and access into getting into higher education — and not just higher education, we’re talking about training, we’re talking about getting them prepared for successful job opportunities,” said Karl Nelson, the principal of Union High School.

The Challenge Scholars program already provides four years of tuition-free college for students who attend Westwood Middle and Harrison Park Schools and then go on to graduate from Union High School. The students who have a GPA of 2.5 or higher can attend 46 plus schools, while students who graduate with a GPA of 2.0-2.49 are provided four years of free tuition at GRCC.

The expansion will allow Union High School graduates – regardless of where they attended elementary or middle school – the opportunity to take advantage of the free tuition at GRCC.

“We didn’t want to create an inequitable situation, where some students were college-bound and others were not. With this new structure, all Union High School graduates starting in 2020 have the opportunity for post-secondary education,” said Grand Rapids Community Foundation President Diana Sieger.

Nelson said it’s a great opportunity for their students who come from all backgrounds.

“The backgrounds of our students come from a variety of different nations, countries. We represent 16 different languages in our building. It’s not just Grand Rapids, but it’s more of a world view or the United Nations view because our students do come from many different parts of not only the country but the world and they come right to Union High School,” Nelson told 24 Hour News 8.

Eight schools feed into Union High School.

“Our feeder pattern goes from the northeast side of grand rapids to the southwest side of Grand Rapids, so it’s a very large area,” Nelson said.

He spoke to eighth-grade students at Riverside Middle School Wednesday to tell them about the change to the Challenge Scholars program.

Donika Broyles, an eighth-grader at Riverside Middle School, is especially impacted by the program. She’s a member of the National Junior Honor Society and is a triplet. Previously, she didn’t believe that her family would all be able to afford college.

“I always dreamed of going to GRCC. I always thought that it wouldn’t be enough for all three of us in our family to go to college and it’s kind of a good opportunity for me, my brother and sister to have free college,” Donika said before getting emotional.

Nelson said other students also had positive reactions to the program.

“Any time you get a positive reaction where they (the students) want to know more, they want to get more information, is a very positive thing in and of itself. The announcement today has brought a sense of ‘I want to know more about it,'” he said.

The expansion to the program will start in the fall with the class of 2020.



Challenge Scholars