Battle Creek

Battle Creek Bearcats receive key college advantage

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

They may never know what it’s like to win the lottery, but parents of students enrolled in Battle Creek Public Schools came close on Wednesday following the unveiling of a new scholarship that covers up to 100% of college tuition and fees for all eligible graduates.
“When it comes to college and how it’s going to be paid for, it is like winning the lottery,” says Destinique Cummings, who has two children in BCPS. Her daughter, Charlize Pettis is a graduating senior from BCCHS and her son, King Pettis is a third-grader at Fremont Academy.
Known as the Bearcat Advantage, the scholarship was announced during Battle Creek Central High School’s annual Decision Day event on Wednesday held inside W.K. Kellogg Auditorium. Except for leadership with BCPS and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the majority of those in attendance had no idea about the details of the announcement which had been billed in the days leading up to it as a “Big Announcement at BCPS Decision Day 2023.”
Battle Creek Central High School’s college decision day and the announcement of the Bearcat Advantage were held at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium.“Today, I’m introducing you to a new scholarship program we’re calling the Bearcat Advantage,” says Kimberly Carter, Superintendent of BCPS. “It will cover up to 100 percent of your college tuition and fees. The longer you’ve been at BCPS, the more scholarship funds you receive. The community is investing in you, students. Starting with the class of 2023 we will pay for your college education. This is your bridge and all you have to do is walk over it.”
More than 1,300 students, community leaders, and leadership with BCPS and WKKF who were in the auditorium clapped, cheered, and rose to their feet as Carter announced the new scholarship program.
In partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), “this historic investment builds off of all the progress of the school district’s transformation work that began over six years ago and ensures that the next generation of BCPS students can continue on the path to career, college, and community success after they graduate,” says Nate Hunt, Communications Manager for BCPS.
Kim Carter, Superintendent of Battle Creek Public Schools, announces the new Bearcat Advantage program at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium.“At the Kellogg Foundation, we are all in on Battle Creek. We are rooted in this community, and we are deeply committed to helping the children and families in this community grow and thrive,” says LaJune Montgomery Tabron, President and CEO of the WKKF “We believe it is our shared responsibility as a community to make each child’s educational journey a success. Together, we can support all our children to the fullest so they can realize their potential.”

She says, “We see our partnership with BCPS as an ongoing and long-term effort. We are here — and will always be here — standing by your side and cheering you on because we believe in a brighter future for our hometown.”

Although her daughter is a Pipeline Scholar and has her tuition at Grand Valley State covered, Cummings says the new scholarship program will essentially eliminate the need to apply for financial aid and scholarships when her son is ready to go to college.
“To me, it’s wonderful news because this scholarship will be available to him,” Cummings says. “You never know what you’ll be awarded whether it’s scholarships or financial aid. My daughter is a Pipeline Scholar so we’re pretty blessed in that area. When my third-grader is ready to attend he won’t have as many hassles trying to apply for scholarships or financial aid.”
ILa June Montgomery Tabron, President and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, speaks during the announcement of the Bearcat Advantage at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium.In addition to covering up to 100 percent of tuition and mandatory fees at any public or private four-year college or university in Michigan, eligible BCPS graduates can use the Bearcat Advantage at any of the nearly 100 eligible Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) across the country.
Cummings says broadening the scholarship program to include HBCUs is “wonderful news.”
“When you have a senior, one of the big things you worry about is how to pay for college,” she says.
The Bearcat Advantage scholarship will:
  • Award scholarship amounts on a sliding scale based on the length of time a student has been continuously enrolled at BCPS. 
    • For example, those who have been a student at BCPS for at least every year of high school will be eligible to receive a 65% scholarship. Those who have been a student at BCPS for all of K-12 will be eligible to receive a 100% scholarship.
  • Be available to use for a four-year undergraduate degree for up to six years after high school graduation.
About 1,200-1,500 students, teachers, parents, administrators, board members, and others attended the announcement of the Bearcat Advantage at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium.Aiden Randolph, 15, a freshman at BCCHS, who is thinking about attending Western Michigan University, said the scholarship is “amazing because I have so many more opportunities now. I’m excited about it and looking forward to it. It will really help me.”
Cameron Daniels, 18, a graduating BCCHS senior who will be attending the University of Michigan, had walked across the stage moments before Carter announced the Bearcat Advantage to be recognized as part of Decision Day 2023. He says figuring out a way to pay for what his merit-based scholarships didn’t cover was a discussion within his family.
“It was very surreal at first,” Daniels says of the scholarship announcement. “I saw the part about qualifying BCPS students and I thought it would be another income-based scholarship. I’ve been in the district my entire life. It’s a very exciting feeling to know that I could go to college for free. I think my family’s more excited than I am.”
Making it Battle Creek-centric
The Bearcat Advantage joins a growing list of similar scholarship programs being offered in communities throughout the United States often referred to as Promise Programs.
Battle Creek Central students applaud during college decision day and the announcement of the Bearcat Advantage at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium.These are “place-based scholarship programs that make college tuition free for at least one college. While all require residency and a high school diploma, some have additional eligibility criteria – such as a minimum GPA. Promise communities have grown from one – Kalamazoo, Michigan – in 2005 to over 300 at the community level along with free college tuition programs in at least 32 states,” according to Free College News. “Communities ranging in size from Northport, MI – population 526 – to Pittsburgh, PA – population 305,842 – are delivering what they promised: more college attendance and completion, plus a talented workforce that helps to grow the economy.”
The framework for the Bearcat Advantage is based on the feedback from students and the community, in partnership with BCPS leadership, says Megan Russell Johnson, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Program Officer.
“We learned from scholarship programs and experts across the country to design a program that would meet the goal of providing students with equitable access to higher education and the goal of supporting ongoing district transformation and to help every BCPS student grow up to be college, career, and community-ready,” she says. “Battle Creek Public Schools and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation are in regular conversation with the community and over the years have taken note of the barriers students, families and community partners have identified that prevent students from accessing higher education and pursuing their dreams.”
Cheryl Roberts, left, and Celeste Clark, former Kellogg Company employes attended college decision day and the announcement of the Bearcat Advantage at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium. Clark is a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Trustee.WKKF has served as a longtime partner to BCPS and has been committed to supporting children and families in Battle Creek since its founding. In 2017, WKKF provided the district with a historic five-year, $51 million investment in support of a district transformation to increase racial equity by reducing barriers to success for children in the community.
Six years ago, an New York University study that was commissioned by the Battle Creek community revealed that racial bias and segregation, compounded by income inequality, had concentrated poverty in Battle Creek among people of color, causing further economic and racial divisions, Russell Johnson says, adding that it also revealed significant barriers to opportunity for BCPS students, in particular.
“Six years ago, the Kellogg Foundation made a historic investment in this community, in Battle Creek Public Schools, to transform public education and lower the barriers standing in the way of opportunity for many kids and young people in Battle Creek,” Montgomery Tabron says. “This was our promise to this community. Six years ago, we preached patience. Change does not happen overnight, but we are so proud of what BCPS – of what YOU –  have been able to accomplish these last six years, especially considering the complicated, crisis-laden pandemic years we’ve all just emerged from.”

Students hold keys which are symbols for the new Battle Creek Public Schools’ Bearcat Advantage.The transformation has spurred new opportunities for students to thrive by rolling out new academic and extracurricular programs, and increased systems of support for BCPS families, Hunt says.
“For example, Battle Creek Central High School was reenvisioned with a Career Academies model to provide all students with the opportunity to explore different career paths through a hands-on, experiential curriculum while developing the skills necessary to excel in school, the workforce, and beyond.”
Funding for the Bearcat Advantage is a new grant that builds on the transformation efforts of BCPS and will support a generation of BCPS graduates to have up to 100% of fees and tuition covered at a Michigan college, university, or nationally at a four-year HBCU, Russell Johnson says.

Battle Creek Central sophomores, from left, Amauria and Amari Faithful, were of the Bearcat Ambassadors during college decision day and the announcement of the Bearcat Advantage.“The total cost of this investment will depend on the number of students enrolled at BCPS, how many years they are enrolled, and how many of them move on to eligible four-year institutions,” she says. “There are too many variables to consider to forecast how long the scholarship will be available — such as the future cost of higher education, enrollment levels, how many students use the scholarship, and future funding resources that may become available. It’s difficult to project how all these factors will play out. So, we’ve committed to a generation of support. We are estimating approximately 20 years.”
“In order for Battle Creek to offer a bright future to its families and young people, all children must have the opportunity to get an excellent education,” Hunt says. “The Bearcat Advantage opens a new pathway to four-year colleges and universities for more students in this community by removing the potential barrier of student loan debt. Those who previously may have had to turn down their dream school or who may not have even considered college as an option due to financial circumstances now have expanded opportunities to pursue higher education. In addition to already existing scholarships and resources for post-secondary opportunities at two-year colleges and trade schools, the Bearcat Advantage will have a positive impact on BCPS students and the broader Battle Creek community for generations to come.”
Carter says that BCPS believes in every student’s potential for success and is committed to tearing down obstacles that stand in their way.
Students walk across the stage at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium as their names and college choices were announced.“The Bearcat Advantage is being established by Battle Creek Public Schools in partnership with the support of our longtime partner, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. They’ve made it possible for our district to transform over the last six years,” Carter says. “Our students could not wait for incremental change. Together we set out to make that change. The Kellogg Foundation stepped up and stepped in.”
While the community and the world make references to achievement gaps, Carter says “What we have is an opportunity gap” that the Bearcat Advantage will close.
“Today, we take the next step in our journey. This is equity by design for every and all, not a few or some,” Carter says. “On behalf of the board, students, and BCPS faculty, I thank the Kellogg Foundation for this historic commitment to our students, scholars, and the future of Battle Creek.”
In a press release about the scholarship, Carter said, “We believe that equity is about opportunity, and this scholarship brings the possibility of higher education to students who otherwise may not have the resources to pursue it. Our vision for success focuses on eliminating opportunity gaps that have existed for many years as a result of systemic inequities, and developing world-class educational experiences for the students we serve.”
Batlle Creek Central High School’s college decision day and the announcement of the Bearcat Advantage were held at W.K. Kellogg Auditorium.Montgomery Tabron says the Bearcat Advantage is not just an investment in BCPS students, but also an investment in “our community.” She says the success of BCPS’ students and schools is a shared success with the city of Battle Creek and everyone who calls Battle Creek home.

“This kind of investment not only makes it possible for each of you to achieve your dreams, it also makes Battle Creek an even more exciting place for young families to put down roots,” Montgomery Tabron says. “It helps directly address our area’s existing skilled labor shortage. And, it will also help make the Battle Creek area even more enticing for growing businesses and other institutions that are looking to set up shop in communities that are committed to investing in the most precious resource: our children and young people.

“The incredible educators in this room and throughout BCPS have dedicated their lives to nurturing and cultivating the talents, creativity, and excellence of Battle Creek’s future. And you, the students in this room, will grow up to own businesses in our community, give back to our community and inspire our community.”
To learn more, visit Bearcat Advantage.

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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.