The Kalamazoo Promise

kalamazooIn 2005, Kalamazoo, Michigan, went from a somewhat below-average place to live to a powerful magnet of a city in just one day. Seven years later, the New York Times magazine looks at how the hope of higher education has transformed the town.

Back in November 2005, when this year’s graduates were in sixth grade, the superintendent of Kalamazoo’s public schools, Janice M. Brown, shocked the community by announcing 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. All of a sudden, students who had little hope of higher education saw college in their future. Called the Kalamazoo Promise, the program — blind to family income levels, to pupils’ grades and even to disciplinary and criminal records — would be the most inclusive, most generous scholarship program in America.

It would also mark the start of an important social experiment. From the very beginning, Brown, the only person in town who communicates directly with the Promise donors, has suggested that the program is supposed to do more than just pay college bills. It’s primarily meant to boost Kalamazoo’s economy. The few restrictions — among them, children must reside in the Kalamazoo public-school district and graduate from one of its high schools — seem designed to encourage families to stay and work in the region for a long time. The program tests how place-based development might work when education is the first investment.

Since The Promise was made, student test scores have gone up, the school district's enrollment increased by 2,000 students, $35 million has been granted in tuition money, and Kalamazoo is now a place to which families want to move. The program has also inspired other towns and school districts to compete by helping more students pay for college. Link -via Kottke


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I was living in Kzoo and teaching at Western Michigan University when the announcement was made. The whole city was, I kid you not, stunned to the point of tears (the joyful kind).
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