You Said It: Stepping Up to Make Sure Low-Income Young People Succeed

You Said It: Stepping Up to Make Sure Low-Income Young People Succeed

Make It Better’s You Said It section features letters and op-eds sent in from readers. If you would like to be featured, please email [email protected] with “You Said It” in the subject line.

The views expressed in You Said It are the opinions of the author and not Make It Better.


According to a 2015 report from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research, only an estimated 18 percent of CPS ninth graders will graduate from a four-year college within 10 years of starting high school. Even more problematic is the fact that more than 50 percent of young, low- income, African American men in Chicago are unemployed. This not only dramatically contributes to their economic instability, but it also continues to severely limit the ability of these young people to reach their full potential, and stifles the opportunity for their neighborhoods and communities to develop, grow, and thrive.

This problem was not created overnight, nor will it be “solved” quickly with a magic bullet. It will take years of determined, creative effort, substantial financial and human resources, and collective determination to do better.

Many of us on the North Shore are blessed with the opportunities, resources, and circumstances that ease our path to success. Many of us have traveled, and are leading our children down a well-established path of a good education, followed by stable, secure employment. For years, I’ve thought about how I could help to provide this same path to low-income young people of color in Chicago. Recently, I became aware of a hidden gem in Chicago, “hiding” in plain sight: Robert Morris University. Originally a secretarial school for low-income, first-generation female students, RMU has developed into a nationally acclaimed university with a culture and structure that breeds success for low-income, first-generation students. As RMU has evolved over the years into a more traditional four-year institution (while still granting two-year associate degrees), it has become a national leader and a beacon of hope for these students.

Robert Morris University Illinois was named the “Best Value All Star” of any college in America by Money Magazine in 2015. Both RMU’s approach to and success with turning at-risk, low-performing students from our public school system into high-achieving undergrads is remarkable — and all within a low-cost, high-value model pioneered by the school.

Two thirds of the student body come from low-income homes, yet almost 80 percent of students earn their diploma. This is almost double the rate of other schools that accept similar students. This is due in large part to academic advising and accountability at the heart of the curriculum and a culture built to support these students. Along with their regular courses, students are required to receive instruction in time management, resume building, leveraging financial aid, and study habits. To make sure that they are career ready, RMU offer programs in technical and growing fields like design, business, nursing and healthcare, and technology and media. Consequently, an astounding three fourths of their students are employed at graduation.

With a new understanding and appreciation of the school’s impact, I approached leaders at RMU to start a new initiative for the school called the New Era Scholarship. My family will make a $1.2 million donation, which we hope will be matched by other private philanthropists who see the value and difference of an RMU education.

The New Era Scholarship goal is to assist 300 African American, CPS high school graduates between now and 2023 in achieving an RMU education with the expectation that this will most probably lead to not only a college degree, but most importantly, a stable job and career! Our goal is to raise an additional $4.8 million to grow and sustain this program through 2021. You can make an impact on the new era by donating now. Your annual gift can change a life … and a community.

Providing high-quality jobs and affordable education to low-income Chicagoans is essential to the long-term health of our city and it’s the right thing to do. It is an honor for our family to participate in a proven pathway to success and for us to assist in expanding the opportunities for others to be successful!


About Michael Alter

Michael Alter is president of Alter, one of the nation’s 10 largest commercial real estate developers. Over 62 years, the company has developed nearly 100,000,000 square feet of office, industrial, and healthcare real estate across the country. Outside of real estate, he co-founded City Year Chicago, which unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service, giving them the skills and opportunities to change the world. In 2005, he became the principal owner and chairman of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, with a goal of promoting professional athletics for women.