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Who is that 6’5” adult surrounded by more than 40 Class of 2015 graduates bedecked in their college gear?

It’s the United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Secretary Duncan was on hand at NLCP this past summer for the official announcement of “The Phoenix Pact.”

The Phoenix Pact is a new scholarship program that makes it possible for NLCP graduates to attend top four-year colleges without having to pay anything out-of-pocket for tuition, fees, room and board.

As Arne Duncan told the crowd, “The national implications of this are pretty big.”

So far, more than $18M has been raised to fund the program, which is designed to ensure that our graduates can attend the colleges where they are most likely to be successful, without cost standing in the way.

How will it work?

The program is a three-way "pact": students commit to graduate with a B average or better and attend a college with a track record of successfully graduating minority students; colleges commit to keeping total loan costs manageable and to ensuring that 50% or more of their minority students earn a degree; and the Phoenix Pact Fund commits to cover any financial gap remaining between the cost of attendance and available financial aid.

Why is this important?

Too often our graduates settle for colleges that haven't had much success with low-income and minority students.  Why do they make this choice?  Because they can't pay the two- to three-thousand extra that it costs to go to the more successful colleges. The Phoenix Pact changes that.  It makes college choice cost-neutral.

So far, 23 colleges have signed on to be partners in the program, including University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Chicago, Michigan State University, Lake Forest College, and Carleton College.

The Phoenix Pact Fund is the organization that will award the scholarships.  Their goal is to provide scholarships to all qualifying NLCP students for many years to come. More than 40 NLCP 2015 graduates will receive Phoenix Pact scholarships this year. Eventually, as many as 100 graduates of NLCP will receive scholarships annually!

No wonder Mr. Duncan – and all these young people in the picture – are smiling.