They say sequels are never as good as the first, but when it comes to the Hope Forward Program, I adamantly disagree. Year two of the program surpassed all expectations and proved to be nothing short of extraordinary. As the Program Director, I have the privilege of witnessing the profound impact that Hope Forward has had on the lives of our students. In this year-end recap, I am thrilled to share the highlights of our journey with you.

Welcoming New Students and Building Community:

Last August, our 22 sophomores warmly welcomed 36 freshmen to campus. Together, our 58 students bring with them a rich tapestry of cultures, backgrounds and experiences as they represent 11 different countries and 19 U.S. States. Their diverse interests and passions are exemplified by the 22 different majors represented among the 34 students who have already declared a major. Approximately half of our 58 students are students of color, and around 20% are proud first-generation college students. Amidst all their differences, they beautifully find commonality through a desire to bring hope to areas of hopelessness which was a foundational aspect of their Hope Forward application process.

“We [the cohort] are all so different which is beautiful. God has a plan for all of us and it is so evident when I interact with each and every one of them. I have always considered myself a glass half-full kind of person, however, my cohort friends help me see how the glass can not just be half-full but overflowing.”

– Freshman Student

Another remarkable characteristic they have in common is their lifelong, covenantal relationship with the college. These students are receiving the gift of a college education while committing to generous, annual giving back to Hope after they graduate. This distinctive model, known as Hope Forward, fosters a deep sense of gratitude and reciprocity within the community.

“The Hope Forward Program helped me find a community that inspires me to work hard and that gives me a lot of support. It helps me to get motivated and to remember that we can always share good things and put effort into the betterment of a community.”

– Freshman Student

Learning Together

Throughout their time on campus, Hope Forward students engage in a comprehensive program designed to prepare and equip them for a lifetime of positive impact rooted in gratitude and generosity. The program, spanning from orientation to graduation, offers co-curricular learning opportunities aligned with the program pillars of community, access, and generosity. Guided by our dedicated team and strong campus partnership, students cultivate virtues such as gratitude, generosity, curiosity, and hope through integrated and applied learning, habitual practice, mutual accountability, and meaningful connections with virtuous role models.

“Hope Forward gave me a community that was catalytic and accepting. It reminded me that I was here on purpose and for a purpose in a deep and impactful way. I learned to love amidst fear and transition, to learn from my peers, and to empower my drive for change by leaning on the love of others.”

– Freshman Student

A few highlights of this past year include: 

  • Shared meals with Hope administrators like President Scogin and CFO, Tom Bylsma, where students learned more about the innovative funding model of Hope Forward and its potential impacts on higher education
  • The creation of a “Cohort Community Covenant” and an art collaborative project which provided an opportunity for students to articulate their commitment to personal growth and investment in the cohort experience
  • The development of a personal portfolio which gives students an opportunity to reflect on a series of prompts related to the learning outcomes throughout the year
  • A cohort-hosted banquet that empowered each student to use their gifts and talents to show gratitude to their invited guests of honor
  • A weekly seminar during which the cohort collectively defined the pillars and then individually presented on what they love in connection to the pillars
  • Participation in the innovation foundation workshop led by the Office of Possibilities
  • And, last but certainly not least, the Catalyst Summit when students shared a meal with Malcolm Gladwell, debuted their cohort collaborative art collection, shared personal stories and experiences with thought-leaders, and celebrated being a foundational part of Hope’s big vision

Student Investment and Growth

The program is still in its pilot phase and we continue to learn from students every day, but early indications tell us that our students are invested in their education and are thriving at Hope. We are thrilled that every single one of our freshmen are planning to return to Hope this fall giving us a 100% freshman-to-sophomore retention rate. I also want to highlight the remarkable achievement of our students – our Hope Forward students are performing academically on par with their peers (dispelling the notion that eliminating tuition reduces a student’s academic investment), almost all (97%) of our students say they feel like they can positively contribute to Hope College, 89% are involved in one or more co-curriculars (which research tell us only elevates classroom learning), and every single one of our students report that they are leading a purposeful and meaningful life. To me, these stand in stark contrast to the narrative we often hear about young adults post COVID. 

We also had 100% of our students report typically exemplifying and demonstrating the virtue of gratitude and 97% typically exemplifying and demonstrating generosity. It gets me so excited to think about a generation full of young people with strong virtues and unshakable character running fearlessly and uninhibited toward a hurting world. 

Looking Ahead

“Hope Forward makes me feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself.”

– Freshman Student

Before we start year three, I want to end this year expressing immense gratitude for this big, bold vision that our community gets to embark on together. Hope Forward is creating a multi-generational community where we humbly receive and then, in turn, get to give out of abundance and gratitude so that future generations can do the same. Proverbs 11:24 says, “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer.” Hope Forward’s cycle of giving and communal investment makes our community rich; rich in love and grace, which was first given to us through the gift of Jesus and points us back to Him. 

This fall, we’re looking forward to welcoming an additional 24 Hope Forward students into this rich community and we anticipate nothing less but continued learning and growth together. 

If you would like to learn more about the Hope Forward student experience and hear student stories, please visit

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1 Comment

  1. The Hope Forward program is not only enriching your students and staff, but should also be a program that many other higher learning institutions could be utilizing at their schools. You have probably the best experienced program staff in the country!

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