A Big Reason to Graduate in Kalamazoo; Benefactor to Pay for College Education of All Students Who Finish Public School

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Miller, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Talk about a future.

Public schools in the western Michigan town of Kalamazoo are starting to bulge after a nameless local benefactor promised to fund the college education of any student who graduates from one of Kalamazoo's three public high schools.

Beginning with the class of 2006, students who attend the city's public schools from kindergarten through grade 12 get a full ride, with a sliding scale down to 65 percent funding for those who complete four years of high school in the district. They must attend a university or college in Michigan.

The cash outlay is expected to reach $10 million to $15 million a year.

From the time the Kalamazoo Promise was announced in November to Jan. 3, the 10,400-student school district reported an increase of 51 students, compared with a decrease of 104 in the same period the previous year.

"But a major part of our growth that we see coming is when we look at the high school and see that we are having fewer dropouts," says Gary Start, assistant superintendent for Kalamazoo Public Schools. "When they find they have all of these years of vested college credit, it's a real incentive to stay."

The district has recorded a 20 percent decline in enrollment during the past dozen years, the administration said.

School officials are considering a bond proposal to accommodate the new students, and no budget cuts are forecast.

"I've been here for 22 years, and most of my career has been cutting budgets," Mr. Start said, "so this is a very different and much more enjoyable part of my career."

Wayne State University in Detroit, eager to attract Kalamazoo students, will cut dorm fees by half for Promise students. Western Michigan University, based in Kalamazoo, is offering free accommodations for students taking advantage of the program. …