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
"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
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
"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
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
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.