COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–Columbus officials are confident in their ability to raise about $3 million from the Central Ohio business community in order to bring the newly announced Columbus Promise program to fruition next year.

The program, which aims to provide at least the next three graduating classes of Columbus City Schools students with free Columbus State Community College tuition, is a public-private partnership, relying on both contributions from government and private businesses.

So far, the $9.5 million program has $6.5 million in funding committed, city officials told us. The city of Columbus is slated to provide $4 million, Columbus State Community College is providing $1 million, and a group of private businesses has committed a combined $1.5 million.

Columbus Partnership President and CEO Alex Fischer said he is confident about the community’s ability to raise the remaining dollars to ensure the opportunity for Columbus City Schools students.

“This kicks off an effort to go to others to complete the fundraising,” Fischer told us Wednesday. “Candidly, based on the early response, this may end up being the easiest thing we’ve ever raised money for.”

The program aims to provide college access to a diverse group of CCS students, while at the same time training the future workforce.

Fischer said that the effort aligns well with the business community’s recent efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion.

It’s a way “to make sure that those of us like myself who’ve been in a white privilege situation have the opportunity to ensure that those who have not enjoyed that privilege have the same opportunities that we have had,” Fischer said.

“Across the board, this aligns with the values of the Columbus Partnership and private sector,” Fischer said. Fischer said the Columbus Promise will set the region apart from others “and ensure we’ve got the workforce of the future.”

“Across the country, the challenge for everybody is that skilled workforce,” Fischer said. “The communities who differentiate themselves are going to be the communities that win. This is one of the ways Columbus can differentiate itself. That workforce is going to include Ph.D. graduates from Ohio State University’s engineering program, but it’s also going to include credential students from Columbus State and everything in between.”

DLZ Corp. President Ram Rajadhyaksha, part of the group employers that has already contributed $1.5 million to the program, said the value proposition for businesses is “easy to understand.”

“We are having difficulties finding new talent,” Rajadhyaksha said. “The employment market is very tight right now. Preparing the next generation of leaders (to create a) viable workforce is incredibly important to all private-sector businesses in the city.”

Rajadhyaksha said DLZ Corp. hopes to be a “landing spot in industry” for future Columbus Promise graduates.

Other organizations that have already backed the program include the American Electric Power Foundation, Denison University, and prominent local developer Edwards Cos.

“Sure, we can talk about this in selfish ways as an employer,” said Jeff Edwards, the developer’s president. “But maybe at the end of the day, the most important thing about this program is it’s simply the right thing to do.”

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