May 03, 2006
The Kalamazoo Promise
The folks in Kalamazoo, Michigan have it right. The key to an economically viable community and society can be found in education. Struggling with rust belt blight, they came up with a plan that is innovative in the annals of redevelopment: a free college education for graduates of their public school system.
These smart and generous civic leaders of Kalamazoo put their heads together, realizing that there was a link between jobs and education, and began working with the Superintendent of Schools, Janice Brown. Together, they came up with the Kalamazoo Promise.
The Promise, as Brown announced to parents and students in November, states: "All students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools, and are residing in the district, and have been students there for four years or more will be given funding for college tuition and mandatory fees. The amount of available dollars depends on years of residency and the number of grades attended in KPS, up to 100% of tuition and mandatory fees. The funds will be available to use at any public university or community college in the State of Michigan."
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Neal Boudette noted that the impact on Kalamazoo was quick in coming. Developers who struggled to sell homes suddenly found a demand for their new homes. Land that went begging is being snapped up by builders. People are moving into the community from other parts of the country and finding more house for less money, and an unusual opportunity for their children.
The jury is still out on how this will spur growth and economic development. But John Austin, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is quoted by Boudette: "The places that produce and attract talented people are going to be the places that participate in today's economy. Your economic future is linked to how many people get to post-secondary higher education and how many you can keep in the community."
The problems facing Kalamazoo are typical of a community or region with a manufacturing base to their economy. Those matriculating through the school system found it easy to take a high school diploma to the nearest factory, get a well paying job, raise a family in comfortable style and ultimately retire with a livable pension. Those days are gone.
Technology is replacing humans on the assembly line. Jobs are going to those educated and skilled in a knowledge-based economy. A high school diploma no longer guarantees a decent living.
The anonymous donors see The Promise as a way to revitalize their city. "They understand that equal access to higher education for all creates a powerful incentive that will bring people and employers back to Kalamazoo," states Superintendent Brown.
Education does make a difference. The best investment we can make in the futures of our community and nation is to support our schools and encourage our students to strive for a higher education.