The number of Harbor Country graduates enrolling in post-secondary institutions has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, from 31 percent in 2008 to over 90 percent in 2016 at New Buffalo High School. Similar increases are reported at River Valley High Schools where 83 percent of the 2016 graduating class progressed to college, up from 42 percent in 2007.
Paralleling the rise in college admission rates in the past decade have been the monthly Pokagon Band distributions to 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.
These distributions, a percentage of which has 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.
“These costs are issues of major concern to our local school districts,” Paul Goodman, guidance counselor at River Valley High School said. “The biggest hindrance to my students attending the college of their choice is cost. Cost of tuition and room and board can be discouraging, and no one should face that kind of debt so early in life.”
For parents who “worked their way through college," the realization that such an option is now lost to their children is confounding.
Mitigating the financial burden of school debt for Harbor Country families and helping local graduates make informed decisions about colleges that are the best “fit” for them both financially and academically has been the result of ongoing programs by local school districts and The Pokagon Fund. Significantly, The Pokagon Fund and Bison-Pokagon
Scholarships have contributed more than $2,750,000 to college tuition for local residents. In addition, The Pokagon Fund began partnering in 2010 with local schools to provide students early access to college and university campuses through field trips.
“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,” Lisa Price, guidance counselor at New Buffalo High School said.
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.
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.