Grove City will set aside $250,000 to keep students in the community.

Grove City will set aside $250,000 to keep students in the community.

On Monday, July 6, Grove City Council voted 3-2 to create the Grove City Higher Education Investment Program, which will initiate the "GC Promise Scholarship," a forgivable loan of up to $1,000 per semester or $3,000 per year -- up to a total of $12,000 -- for a student living within the corporation limits of Grove City and who attends an accredited higher-education program within the city. The city will appropriate $250,000 annually for the scholarship program.

Scholarship stipulations require students to reside within the city for three years after taking their last course, perform at least three volunteer hours to Keep Grove City Beautiful or VIP program each semester and maintain a C average. If students do not meet the criteria, they will have to pay back the scholarship in full.

The city also is to create a University Facility and Attraction Fund of $100,000 per year in brick-and-mortar and lease concessions to attract university programs.

To administer the program, the Grove City Higher Education Investment Committee will comprise the superintendent of South-Western City Schools or his designee, the city finance director, a resident appointed by the mayor, two residents appointed by City Council, a member of the South-Western Education Foundation and a member of the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation Committee.

The committee is to "set the criteria and structure for the scholarships on an annual basis and determine the number of scholarships available yearly." It also will submit a program outline to council that includes methods for "disbursements, repayment and residency verification."

Council President Ted Berry, Councilwoman Maria Klemack-McGraw and Councilman Steve Bennett voted for the program, and Councilman Jeff Davis and Councilwoman Laura Lanese dissented.

Berry said the program is one of the most unusual of its kind in the country.

"We must both keep and support existing students and attract newly educated people," Berry said. "If Grove City does not become more aggressive, it will stay idle or lose ground in the future economy."

David Harrison, president of Columbus State Community College, said the program is a "bold vision."

""I think you will be taking a great step in this regard," he said to council. "That is an important step and one that sets Grove City apart."

Lenee Pezzano, president of Harrison College's Grove City campus, said the program would help create a citywide culture that communicates to businesses that the city is serious about meeting their needs for skilled workers.

"No one entity can do it all," she said. "I believe this program can be a catalyst for more programs like it."

Resident Hunter Swackhammer said the program could help students like himself. After two semesters in college, he said, he's already in debt for $7,000.

"I came from a lower-working-class family," he said. "I don't plan on living a life on plastic and credit."

Resident Anthony Brown said he was fortunate to not have a lot of debt at Ohio State University, but his daughter won't be so fortunate as higher-education costs continue to rise.

"I think this program is outstanding," Brown said. "You're help is going to be needed."

Davis proposed an amendment that would have reduced the city's investment in the scholarship program to $125,000, but the amendment failed.

"I get the goal, but let's start a little smaller," he said. "Let's see if this program works."

Davis and Lanese both said they were concerned about enforcement and the city becoming a "collection agency." Lanese also said she had concerns about local government getting involved in a business it shouldn't be in.

"The people best suited to do this are the education folks," she said. "I have yet to see any economic-impact studies for our community."

In a letter to the city, Christine Houk, a board member with the Grove City Area Chamber of Commerce, said she had concerns, including whether a municipality should fund a scholarship program.

"Grove City is probably now -- to a greater extent than ever before in its history -- a city that is experiencing an influx of educated and professional people rather than an exodus," she wrote. "If you are attempting to provide resources to local students, why not point them toward the numerous local organizations who work tirelessly every year to raise funds for their scholarship programs to benefit Grove City's students?"