This month, I had the opportunity to attend the Catalyst Summit at Hope College in Holland, MI. The purpose of the summit was to discuss access to higher education, with Hope offering free tuition to students through an innovative program. Students who participate agree to pay back into an alumni fund after graduation, with the amount being up to their discretion. Currently, the alumni fund holds $60 million, and 56 students are enrolled in the program. One condition for enrollment is that students must be from outside the state of Michigan and be first-generation college students.

As you might know, first-generation college students face unique challenges in terms of support and guidance. As a first-generation college student, myself, I can relate to the difficulties of navigating university life without prior family experience. I encourage everyone to support first-generation college students, as they often require emotional and financial assistance.

Matt Scoggin, the President of Hope College, emphasized the importance of providing access to education to prevent society from becoming an aristocracy where only the wealthy can afford higher education for their children. The day-and-a-half-long summit featured speakers from various locations, including the president of Arizona State, who also initiated an innovative program in higher education. The event was emceed by Malcolm Gladwell, who is deeply interested in and focused on access to education.

One highlight of the event was a panel of eight students enrolled in the program who discussed their experiences as first-generation college students without the burden of large amounts of debt. This financial relief enables them to focus on learning instead of worrying about repaying loans.

A quick aside regarding the burden of student loan debt, I recently listened to a podcast discussing the decline in car purchases among young people, which is partly attributed to this debt. As a result, fewer young people are obtaining driver’s licenses, instead opting for rideshare services like Uber or Lyft in urban settings. This trend has interesting implications for economic development as the number of car owners decreases.

If you’re interested in gaining insight into how Hope College is pioneering a potential nationwide effort to create affordable higher education opportunities by transforming the funding model, four of the Summit’s sessions were recorded and can be viewed at: