Battle Creek

Battle Creek Public School's Bearcat Advantage expands to include Michigan's private institutions

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
BATTLE CREEK, MI — DeVoine Newton, Jr., and Noah Nichols had no idea when they entered Battle Creek Central High School as freshmen that their college educations could be covered through the Bearcat Advantage, a scholarship program announced in May 2023.
“Could” became “will” on Wednesday when the two seniors learned that the Bearcat Advantage now includes 15 of Michigan’s top private colleges, in addition to any public or private four-year college or university in Michigan and the nearly 100 eligible Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) across the country.
The new eligible institutions are Adrian College, Albion College, Alma College, Andrews University, Aquinas College, Calvin University, College for Creative Studies, University of Detroit Mercy, Hillsdale College, Hope College, Kalamazoo College, Madonna University, The University of Olivet, Siena Heights University, and Spring Arbor University.
Noah Nichols, at left, and DeVoine Newton, Jr., at right, strike a pose during a media event at Battle Creek Central High School.Newton has already been accepted to Albion and is the recipient of the college’s Ferguson Scholarship which provides $32,000 per student and is renewable each year. The expansion of the Bearcat Advantage will cover funding gaps for Newton.
“I’ll be going to school for free,” Newton says. “Not a lot of people come out like this.”
Nichols will attend Olivet, a goal that was made attainable through a $16,000 annual renewable scholarship he received through that university.
“I thought about going to Grand Valley State University, but it’s two hours away from home. Olivet’s 30 minutes away and it’s a smaller school with a 1 to 13 ratio of instructors to students. I feel like I’ll get more individualized attention and support there.”
Without the Bearcat Advantage and its latest iteration, Newton would have accrued a level of student debt and Nichols may not have chosen Olivet. Both students say that their families cannot afford to help them financially through college.
From left to right: Albion President Dr. Wayne Webster, students DeVoine Newton and Noah Nichols, and Dr. Kimberly Carter, Battle Creek Superintendent.The opportunity for both of them and their peers to attend the college or university they want to attend rather than the one they could afford to attend is the result of a new partnership between the Bearcat Advantage and Michigan Colleges Alliance (MCA) which will provide students the opportunity for full gap funding to cover the difference between the Bearcat Advantage Scholarship and the tuition and fees required at 15 of Michigan’s top private colleges and universities.
College choice is critical to student success, says Robert Bartlett, President of Michigan Colleges Alliance.
“We are fortunate to have so many leading higher education options in our network,” he says in a press release. “It has always been among our top priorities to broaden college choice and access in Michigan, and we are delighted that this partnership with the Bearcat Advantage will allow more students the opportunity to pursue education at one of our many campuses.”
Newton, starting varsity quarterback for BCCHS football teams all four years, says Albion was not originally top of mind for him when he started his college search.
“It was not Albion for sure because of the cost of a private school,” says Newton who will continue to play football at Albion. “My family doesn’t have that much money. I wouldn’t put that burden on my mom or dad to pay. I didn’t want to put that on them.”
Dr. Wayne Webster, Albion College President, at left, and Robert Bartlett, President of Michigan Colleges AllianceWhen the financial constraints became a non-issue, he could focus on making the best choice for himself, one that would help him reach his career goal of being a science teacher and football coach at BCCHS.
Nichols, who wrestled all four years at BCCHS, says he probably wouldn’t have gone on to college were it not for the Bearcat Advantage. Like Newton’s family, his family also does not have the financial resources to cover the cost of his college education.
“Tuition is really expensive,” says Nichols who is leaning towards a career in science or something more hands-on. “This really helps out a lot. It gives students another experience if they want to take it.”
Opportunities where none existed before
Tears streamed down Tierra Stevens's face in May 2023, as she and other parents and students were told about a college scholarship program that would change the trajectory for themselves and their children.
Two months shy of that announcement one year ago of the Bearcat Advantage inside W.K. Kellogg Auditorium, leadership with Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS) on Wednesday announced the addition of new opportunities to that scholarship
The single mother of a son, Koby Miller a 5th grader at Valleyview Elementary, and a daughter, Lyric Daniels a 7th grader at Springfield Middle School, Stevens says the first thing that comes to mind for her concerning this partnership is the student debt she is still paying off. She says it will be at least 10 more years until that debt is paid off.
Tierra Stevens, Extended Learning Programs Assistant Director for the 21st Century Program, and her children, Koby Miller, a 5th grade student at Valleyview Elementary, and Lyric Daniels, who is in the 7th grade at Springfield Middle School.“While I still have school debt to think about now there’s this opportunity on top of that first amazing opportunity for my children and all of my afterschool children who will all have this opportunity to enter into adulthood debt-free,” says Steven, Assistant Director of Extended Learning Afterschool Programs with 21st Century. “That alleviates a lot of stress in your life. These students will become happy and productive adults.”
Starting with the class of 2024, BCPS graduates eligible to receive the Bearcat Advantage will also be eligible to receive additional scholarship funding to attend any of the 15 Michigan Colleges Alliance (MCA) institutions.
“The scholarship amounts are calculated using the stated tuition and fees scale at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science & the Arts as the maximum award amount, which initially meant that students attending private schools within Michigan or eligible HBCUs would need to cover the difference in cost between that established fee scale and their intended institution independently from the Bearcat Advantage,” according to information in a press release. 

“But starting today, this new opportunity made possible by Michigan Colleges Alliance allows the next generation of BCPS students the option to attend 15 top private colleges and universities in Michigan without the financial barriers of covering that difference in cost.” 

“We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of Michigan Colleges Alliance for making private higher education more accessible to students who otherwise may not have the opportunity to pursue it,” says Dr. Kimberly Carter, Superintendent of BCPS, in that press release. “Developing world-class educational experiences for our students by eliminating opportunity gaps is a top priority. This announcement marks another exciting milestone on the path to dismantling systemic inequities and advancing equity in education.”
The possibilities and choices this affords students are limitless, says Kayla McCarthy, whose son, Maximus Dixon is a 4th grader at Fremont International Academy.
Kayla McCarthy and her son, Maximus Dixon, who is in the 4th grade at Fremont International Academy“This really helps the child guide their education in a way they couldn’t before. They can choose the program that best suits what they’re looking for versus what they can afford,” says McCarthy, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Battle Creek Community Foundation (BCCF) and owner of Kayla McCarthy Photography.
Before the Bearcat Advantage McCarthy says some students were likely asking themselves what the point of furthering their educations was if they didn’t have the financial resources to pay that cost.
McCarthy remembers trying to hold back tears as she watched the Bearcat Advantage announcement while on a train to Chicago.
“I was really overcome with emotion. It was really hard to hold back the tears because it was such an exciting opportunity. My partner and I save as much as we can for our son’s education but to know that he can go to college debt-free is kind of astounding,” she says. “I just want people to know that this is a window of hope and gives a leg up to families and kids who deserve it. A lot of lives will be changed because of this trajectory.”
McCarthy and Stevens both think that having more choices without being saddled with debt will be a big motivator for students to stay in school and earn good grades.
Stevens says the motivation factor is especially difficult for African American male students because “they’re the ones not necessarily passing their classes and they have it really hard.”
In Michigan, only 61% of Black boys graduate high school on time, compared to 75% of Black girls, 81% of white boys, and 87% of white girls. according to the Brookings Institution. 
This factors into the number of Black students enrolling in higher education in Michigan which saw a decrease of about 40% from 2012 to 2022, with enrollment of low-income students falling by close to 30% over that time, according to data from Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities.
Stevens, a 2004 graduate of Battle Central High School, graduated number 7 out of a class of 288 students. Despite graduating in the Top 10, she and her family did not have the financial resources for her to attend college.
“I was raised by my grandmother and she could not afford to pay for me or my six siblings to go to college,” Stevens says. “We identify with many of those students who are not being raised by their parents. This will help all of our kids to succeed. This really, really speaks to the vision of BCPS to ensure 100 percent success for all Bearcats.”
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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.