Help Wanted | Free tuition is possible in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Wealthy donors pay for college or university tuition for every graduate from the public school system
Free tuition is possible. At least it is in Kalamazoo, Mich.
That's where a group of wealthy, anonymous donors from the community made the Kalamazoo Promise. It's a program that pays up too 100 per cent of college or university tuition for every graduate from the public school system.
Growing up in Kalamazoo, Jasmine Granville didn't think her future had much promise.
"I knew all along my parents weren't going to be able to pay for me to go to college," she said. "It was either get a basketball scholarship or, I don't know, probably the streets somewhere."
It sounds bleak but for some time so was the future of this city.
Michelle Miller-Adams, author of the The Power of a Promise, said Kalamazoo was plagued with enrollment decline, depopulation and job loss before the donors made their offer.
"I think they were trying to make a game-changing investment that would shift the incentives for a lot of players and really help strengthen the school district and the urban centre to really promote the economic vitality of the city," she said.
So far $40 million has been spent and more than 2,500 students have been helped.
The Kalamazoo Promise is available to all students of Kalamazoo Public Schools District. Students must have completed all their high-school years, grades 9-12, in the district and graduate.
The promise has inspired the local university to offer more outreach programs.
"We now have service learning and the students deliberately doing things in the community," said Martha Warfield, the vice president for diversity and inclusion at Western University. "That's probably the biggest boost to economic development."
There are 43 post-secondary schools where the promise can be used. It covers tuition and mandatory fees. Students have 10 years from the date of graduation to use it.
City officials are also using the promise to attract more jobs for those graduating.
"So anybody new that wants to come into the community, into the city, we market it as, 'hey here's an advantage that your going to have; that your employees are going to get," said Gerome Kisscormi, economic development director for the City of Kalamazoo.
Seven years in the promise and high school enrollment numbers are up in the school district. Officials say it's grown 25 per cent in the first seven years and is the only school district in an urban area in the United States experiencing double-digit growth.
Granville said the future is a little brighter for her and the city..
"I honestly didn't see myself making it past a certain age, just because of the lack of opportunities the lack of money, resources, things like that," she said. "But there's no stopping me now."
There are dozens of comparable programs across the United States but many of them are not as inclusive as the Kalamazoo promise.