K-Promise one year later

Cities big and small hope to replace it

The Philly Promise? The Denver Promise? The Flint Promise?

Cities of all sizes across the United States would like the replicate the Kalamazoo program that offers free college tuition to Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates who meet certain criteria.

"We get contacted very frequently, probably once a day," Robert Jorth, administrator of The Kalamazoo Promise, told Michigan Education Report. "From all corners of the U.S."

Jorth said people from cities as large as Philadelphia, Denver, Minneapolis and Tacoma, Wash., have called his office seeking advice and information.

"Some times it’s a private citizen, other times it’s a person from a foundation, or a government official," Jorth said. "Some places I’ve talked to a half dozen times, usually to more than one person."

Jorth said some people have asked to come and visit, although that is discouraged.

"There really isn’t much to show them," he said. "We can tell them everything they need to know over the phone."

Announced in November 2005, The Kalamazoo Promise offers tuition to any public college or university in Michigan for graduates of KPS. Starting with the class of 2005, students enrolled since kindergarten who reside in the district receive 100 percent of tuition costs. There is a sliding scale, down to 65 percent, for students who enroll before ninth grade. A group of anonymous donors initiated the program.

Kathi Horton, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, told Michigan Education Report that a group of representatives from area colleges, school districts, foundations and chambers of commerce have been discussing how to start a similar program.

"We, like many, were captivated by the big splash Kalamazoo made," Horton said. "We came together and asked ourselves what we might do that would have a big effect on our area."

Horton said the Flint group isn’t looking to replicate the exact Kalamazoo Promise, but they would like to create a program that would lead to a similar trickle down effect on school enrollment, college aspirations for students, economic development and the housing market.

"We’re in the very initial stages," she said. "We meet about once and month and we’re gathering information."

Two other programs come closest to mirroring Kalamazoo. In Hammond, Ind., "College Bound" is in its first year and is using tax revenues from riverboat gambling to pay about $522,000 in scholarships for 111 high school graduates who are attending various Indiana public universities. Also based on a percentage scale, Hammond’s program requires not only residency within the school district, but eligible students must live with a parent or guardian in a home they own within the city limits, according to the program’s Web site.

In Newton, Iowa, the "Newton Promise" will start next year and use a combination of local sales tax money and private foundations to pay for college tuition, also with a sliding scale based on years of residency in the school district. The Newton Promise, however, differs slightly in that it also will pay for students who attend private college.

Jorth said although the K-Promise was in the planning and discussing stages for five years, once it was announced it did not take long to set up.

"It was announced in November, I was hired in March and now we have 350 kids in school," Jorth said. "Other places that want to start the same thing need to figure out two main issues: what’s their funding source and what are their eligibility requirements."

Other similar programs include the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, for students of families with less than $50,000 a year income, who graduate with a minimum 2.5 grade point average in college preparatory classes. Participants can receive free tuition at Oklahoma public colleges and universities and partial tuition at private institutions. In Garrett County, Md., high school graduates who enroll full-time at Garrett College and maintain a 2.0 GPA can get the difference paid for between tuition and other aid for which they qualify. In Sullivan County, Tenn., high school graduates can receive free tuition at Northeast State Community College if they pursue an associate’s degree and maintain a 2.0 GPA.

K-PROMISE IN YEAR TWO

When the Kalamazoo Promise was announced a year ago, it sent shock waves across southwest Michigan. Home values in the Kalamazoo Public Schools district went up, neighboring public school districts, local charters and independent schools braced for a potential enrollment decline, and suddenly college became a reality for students who had never thought about it.

Enrollment in KPS is up about 100 compared to the start of the 2005 school year, including families that moved to Kalamazoo from as far away as Arizona and Hawaii to take advantage of the K-Promise, according to The Kalamazoo Gazette.

Of the students receiving K-Promise money, about 150 are attending Kalamazoo Valley Community College, which helped the two-year school attain an all-time high enrollment of more than 13,500. Another 100 students are at Western Michigan University, which in the wake of the K-Promise announcement said it would give free room and board this year to those students.

"That probably kept some kids from going to other schools, like a Central or an Eastern," Jorth said. "Western was able to shift some scholarship money they normally would have given Kalamazoo graduates, and they have those students apply for federal funding to pay the other costs. It was an extraordinary offer, but it’s not really costing them much."

Jorth said about 36 Promise students are attending Michigan State University, with 17 more at the University of Michigan. Others are scattered at smaller schools and a few at other community colleges.

"We had a few kids who weren’t quite able to get into four-year schools, but they were told if they put in one good semester at KVCC, they could transfer," Jorth said. "We also have a few who will move the other way, and that’s very smart of them."

Jorth said one student left Western Michigan after the first week of school and instead enrolled at KVCC.

"She just wasn’t ready for the larger setting," he said. "But that’s great. We’re blessed to have a great community college, so it’s better for those kids to be there than not going anywhere."

K-Promise recipients have 10 years to use four years worth of tuition, and can only apply it toward a bachelor’s degree.

"Some kids will get an associate’s degree, maybe work a few years, then go back for a bachelor’s degree," Jorth said. "Others will go right through."

Jorth said he also expects some of the class of 2005 who originally decided to attend private schools or go out of state to return and enroll in the Promise.

"As long as they can get in (to college), they can get the money," he said.