Friday, September 21, 2012

Kalamazoo Promise: Invest in Education and We ALL WIN!

College tuition scholarships for all high school graduates
The New York Times Magazine article (9/16/2012)  Why These Kids Get a Free Ride to College  by Ted C. Fishman related an outstanding initiative (started in 2005) promising all Kalamazoo County high school graduates college scholarships. I thought this merited further discussion and a second look.

First some background information collected from Mr. Fishman's article and from "The Value of Universal Eligibility in Promise Scholarship Programs" by Michelle Miller-Adams in Employment Research, the Newsletter (October 2011) of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research:
  • 39% of its students are white;
  • 44% of it's students are African-American
  • 1 of every 3 students in the district falls bellow the national poverty level
  • 1 in 12 students is homeless
  • Kalamazoo has one of the highest pregnancy rates among black teens in the state
And yet..
"...for the vast majority of the 500-plus students who graduate each year in Kalamazoo...[their] high-school degrees come college.
" November 2005...the superintendent of Kalamazoo's public schools, Janice M. Brown...announced that unnamed donors were pledging to pay the tuition at Michigan's public colleges, universities and community colleges for every student who graduated from the district's high schools...The Kalamazoo Promise...[is] blind to family income levels, to pupil's grades and even to disciplinary and criminal records... [and] would be the most inclusive, most generous scholarship program in America."
Aside from the philanthropic aspect of this program for Kalamazoo's youth, the Kalamazoo Promise is a bold social experiment aimed at boosting the community and Kalamazoo's economy as it is designed to keep families living and working in Kalamazoo with its long-term investment in human capital.

Some Background Information about Kalamazoo:
  • Kalamazoo population is 74,000 and is located half-way between Chicago and Detroit 
  • In the early 1900's it was called "Celery City" and Gibson Guitars and Checker Cabs were made near downtown
  • By the late 1950's Kalamazoo was "Paper City" housing one of the most productive paper-mill town in the world
  • In 1966 General Motors opened a stamping plant employing 4.000 workers.
  • For decades, Upjohn Company controlled by the Upjohn family cushioned blows to Kalamazoo economy
  • By 1974, Checker, the paper mills and G.M. were gone 
How does Kalamazoo's Promise to invest in education help community health and economic stability?

"...students who start in the Kalamazoo school district as kindergartners receive enough money to cover their entire tuition to public in-state schools. Students who later grades get less, based on a sliding scale; entering high-school freshmen, for example, get 65% of their tuition covered...To date, the Kalamazoo Promise has paid out $35 million for post-secondary study for 2,500 students...Students are responsible for their own room and board."

Length of attendance Proportion of full tuition
K–12 100%
1–12 95%
2–12 95%
3–12 95%
4–12 90%
5–12 85%
6–12 80%
7–12 75%
8–12 70%
9–12 65%
10–12 None
11–12 None
12 None

EDUCATION Changes resulting from the Promise:
  • The city's middle schools - several near the bottom of Michigan's rankings - have rearranged schedules and moved 120 hours a year into core-curriculum instruction enabling more remedial instruction in math and reading - after which 70% of the middle-schoolers increased their proficiency by at least one grade in math and reading.
  • High-school test scores have improved four years in a row.
  • GPA's have edged higher and there is an increased enrollment in advanced placement (AP) courses.
  • There has been a reduction in the number of days of student suspensions and an increase in a student's probability of being promoted to the next grade.
  • A higher percentage of African-American girls graduate from the district than they do in the rest of the state, and 85% go on to college.
  • More than 90% of Kalamazoo's graduates go on to higher education: 6 in 10 go to Western Michigan University of Kalamazoo Valley Community College and over time a greater number of students are attending the more selective University of Michigan and Michigan State.


  • The Promise enlists businesses, government, neighborhood organizations, churches, healthcare providers and in turn generates better schools, includes better nutrition for children, better housing, better medical care and universal prekindergarten programs.
  • Sevices such as tutoring and mentoring have proliferated within and outside the schools.
  • In the first year after the Promise, 1.000 additional students enrolled in the Kalamazoo schools
  • Altogether, the student population has increased by 2,450 students, or 24%.
  • With every added student, the school district gets another $7,250 from the state.
  • A new teacher can be hired for every additional 25 students; 92 have been hired so far.
  •  Many argue that not all young adults need a college education, especially those going into specialty fields and family businesses.For more discussion you may want to read: The UnCollege? The Five Minute College? Or Traditional Liberal Arts?
  • Students from low-income families have had an especially hard time finishing.  
  • Many of the high school graduates are still underprepared academically and attending college (free or not) imposes opportunity costs (delayed wages) as well and pose living costs as room and board are not covered.
  • A disproportionate amount of black males still drop out of high school (only about 44% graduate).
  • As of 2011, half of the students who entered the program have dropped out before finishing  

  •  Many people in Kalamazoo are saying that while the Promise is...promising, intervention must begin much earlier - they want to target early childhood education to complement the program and help prepare students academically, especially black males.
  • Similar programs have been established in El Dorado AK; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; New Haven, CT and Pittsburgh, PA. These communities have joined PromiseNet, a network of communities that run or plan similar place-based scholarship programs. 
Image from"The Value of Universal Eligibility in Promise Scholarship Programs" by Michelle Miller-Adams as found in Employment Research, the Newsletter (October 2011) of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research

"We may never know those donors' names, but we know how they helped bring this community together and how you've embraced their Promise not just as a gift to be appreciated, but a responsibility to be fulfilled."   -President Obama

Clearly we will have to wait to see the long-term ramifications but I applaud the concept of investing in educations, in students, and in the future. If I were looking for a place to live/move, this would certainly carry weight in the decision. Furthermore their results seem to indicate greater teacher and student involvement.

Research has shown that quality education increases a child's lifetime income and based on growth in academic measures noted by the Upjohn Institute, there appears to be significant progress. I hope their good numbers continue to grow and improve. What is so impressive is the interest in INVESTING IN OUR CHILDREN. Building strong educational incentives and strong educational systems is vital to our national health, wealth and security and I would like to see this taken further. 

What do you think?  Please leave you opinions, experiences and ideas in the comments and thank you for your visit!!!
Here are some links to visit to find out more about the Kalamazoo Promise

NOTE TO READERS: I don't claim ownership for all the images on this blog.  If someone finds an image that belongs to you, please email me or leave a comment.  I will gladly acknowledge your work and/or remove the images as per your request.


  1. Hi! love your blog. following you from blog hop. follow back if you would like.

    Patricia from

  2. I am your latest follower.
    I live in Michigan and worked in the school system. A high quality school makes so much of a difference, but how to get it in certain circumstances is a huge challenge. When we first moved here we put our then-middle school child in a school w/a bad reputation, he was a good child, good student and we had faith in him being able to do well (we lived in that district). Biggest mistake we ever made w/his education. It took its toll. We moved to the best district in the area, where the schools really are great, and it made all the difference in the world.

    I don't know what to say...something needs to be done, it's not an easy matter...but the kids are important enough that it really shouldn't have gotten into the condition its in now...really, the whole topic baffles me, but like you looking to positive change, watching things that are going on, seeing where I can help, are all important to me.

  3. Hi Meryl! This sounds like a good start to inspire students. Thanks for linking this up with my NO RULES Weekend Blog Party!

    Have a good weekend :)

  4. I think this is a great idea for students!! Found you on the TGIF blog hop and am now following you on your GFC. Would LOVE it if you could visit my humorous blog site and follow back the same way--I'd really appreciate it! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. I think this is absolute awesome! So many who would love the chance but couldn't afford it now can. I am impressed.

  6. Wow, I'm really impressed with this. Education is vitally important and I really believe should be available to anyone who wants it - not just those with the ability to pay.

    Thanks for linking up with the GtKY hop :)

  7. This was really interesting! It's great that there will be some help for those who need it most. I have a friend from Kalamazoo and I never knew the situation was so poor for some students. I'm now following you from the Monday Mingle. I'd love a follow as well :). Thanks and have a great week.

  8. Great program for helping to break the cycle of poverty but I agree that children living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods need to be reached much earlier than kindergarten.

  9. Happy Wordless Wednsday Meryl!

    Thanks for linking up :)

  10. "they" say you can't throw money at education, but NOT spending money is disastrous
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  11. A very interesting program. I will have to check it out further.

  12. The most important things are: inventive, enthusiastic teachers and motivated students. Even with little money and a shortage of books, education is possible. Use the objects around you.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Meryl!
    Thank you for visiting.

  13. Yay a fellow Michigander linked up to the hop! :)

    I think what Kalamazoo is doing is really awesome. In fact I'd love to see more cities do this. Education is so important and it often times feels like it's put on the back burner. Thanks for sharing this with us, because I had no idea this was even going on! It's nice to see a city doing something this positive for their kids.

    P.S. Thanks for linking up to the GtKY blog hop! :)

  14. Life will forever be changed if the program is taken advantage.
    What a difference these young people can make in their community and it's exciting to think that the circle of poverty can be broken.

  15. I agree, investing in education is so important. Children will be leading our nation one day, so we really need to focus on ALL children and the education that they receive. Not just the one's who can pay for it.

  16. I read a related research about the quality education's impact to ones life and I totally agree.

    Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

  17. 1 in 12 students is homeless? That is still a lot better than several other parts of the world. Say, mine. Here if you are homeless, you forget studying altogether. The big fight is on food.

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  19. This is so very interesting. I will check out the website.

  20. very interesting. I never heard of a program like this before. I am definitely going to check all of this out. As an educator I find it so important to give kids the chance to do their very best and reach their goals. Thanks for linking this up with favorite thing :)

  21. Thanks for the information and stopping by ww

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