*In 2022, we would like to tell you more about the Chamber’s partner organizations. Today’s feature is the Mason County Promise. The Promise Zone office is housed with the Chamber of Commerce at 119 S. Rath Avenue, Ludington. 


Free College Tuition Ensures Access to a Positive Future

A program begun in 2018, the Mason County Promise supports local graduates by offering up to 72 credit hours of post-secondary education at West Shore Community College. All tuition and mandatory fees are covered by this scholarship.

So far, 350 students have taken advantage of the program in four years, and Promise Zone Director Jody Maloney hopes that number continues to increase over the coming years.

“I’d love to see the young people of Mason County thrive in college,” Maloney said. “I’d love to see our students use the Promise as a platform from which they launch their career here in Mason County, or transfer to a college where they can get a credential that can bring them back to serve their community.

“Mostly, my hope is that the Promise helps every single child who lives here know that they matter to their community, that their future is important, and that education can make their dreams happen.”

The Mason County Promise is a middle-dollar program, meaning that dollars are applied after state and federal financial aid has been applied. Those eligible for the program must:

  • Reside in Mason County and graduate with a 2.0 GPA or better from a public or non-public school in Mason County
  • Be a resident of Mason County who has obtained a GED after 2018.

Free tuition, as well as the ability to earn credits while living in the local community, can be a significant cost-savings to those who are working toward an associate degree, bachelor’s degree or career certification.

Maloney says that post-secondary education will give students the start they need to be competitive in the job market.

By 2030, more than 60 percent of job postings will require education beyond a high school diploma. Today, closer to 35 percent of our population in Mason County meets the criterion. Mason County Promise provides an opportunity for all students to have access to a promising future. 

“In the next decade, a major shift in jobs is predicted, with a larger percentage than ever requiring a certification or degree that can only be obtained through post-secondary education,” Maloney said. “But in respect to income, college is more expensive than ever – it’s not really a reality that students can work over a summer to afford tuition, so many young people afford college through taking on debt. With a Promise, our local graduates can avoid debt for tuition by starting their degrees here locally, tuition-free at West Shore Community College. If the students who used the Promise to pay for tuition, so far, went to an average cost University in Michigan instead, Mason County’s students and families would have paid about $3.5 million out of pocket. That’s money that leaves Mason County and never comes back.  

“What’s even more significant is that the students who leave Mason County for college rarely come back–contributing to ‘brain drain’ of our rural talent,” Maloney continued. “Beyond saving money for local families, scholarship dollars awarded through the Promise stay in Mason County, over $817,000 thus far, and that means our local economy gets a boost. Finally, I’d add that our Promise brings tax capture dollars to Mason County that might otherwise stay in Lansing to be distributed broadly across the state. In short, having a Promise is a huge, positive win.” 

How does the Chamber work with the Mason County Promise?

The Chamber is a great support for establishing community connections and supporting the administrative aspects of the Promise, according to Maloney. The Promise Board is public, and the Chamber provides staff and support for the board meetings. The Chamber helps to promote Promise initiatives and messaging and gives Mason County Promise a visible, physical presence here. 

“Our Promise is unique in that it is not a non-profit, and instead relies on our local partners for staffing, financial management, and operational support. Without the Chamber, the Community Foundation (which is also housed at the Chamber) and Mason County’s administrator, the Promise might be invisible due to the limitations of administrative costs for overhead,” she said.

Application process
Applications for the 2022 academic year are currently being accepted by the Mason County Promise. To apply, fill out the Federal Student Aid Application at fafsa.gov; apply and enroll at West Shore Community College; and apply to the Promise at masoncountypromise.org/apply.

Students who are applying for fall 2022 should complete their Promise application by June 1, 2022 so they have the time they need to prepare, but students may apply for the Promise anytime between October 1 of their senior year and up to three years after graduation.