Academic journal article Education Next

The Kalamazoo Promise Scholorship: College Funds Boost Grades of African American Students

Academic journal article Education Next

The Kalamazoo Promise Scholorship: College Funds Boost Grades of African American Students

Article excerpt

The Kalamazoo Promise provides college scholarships to graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS), a midsized urban school district in Michigan that is racially and economically diverse. Anonymous donors promise to pay up to 100 percent of college tuition for any KPS graduate who attends a public college or university in Michigan. Scholarships start at 65 percent of college tuition for students who enrolled in KPS in 9th grade and stay until graduation, and increase to 100 percent for students who have attended since kindergarten. The scholarship is not limited to students with strong academic records or demonstrated financial need. Students must simply get into college and maintain a 2.0 grade-point average (GPA) while enrolled. Announced in 2005, the Kalamazoo Promise is unusual among scholarship programs in its universality and generosity.

As a model for revitalizing an urban school district and its community, the Promise, as it is called, has attracted much attention and many imitators. At least 24 other areas around the country have launched or are trying to launch Promise-style programs, with private or public funding. In part because of the Promise, President Obama delivered the commencement address to the graduating class of Kalamazoo Central High School in 2010.

Given the popularity and cost of the programs, there is a need for research to determine the size of the benefits of Promise-style efforts, or indeed, whether there are any discernible benefits. The tuition subsidies available through the Promise should create incentives for higher academic performance. Students who might otherwise attend Western Michigan University (WMU), the state campus located in Kalamazoo, may use the tuition subsidy to enroll at higher-ranked schools such as Michigan State University or the University of Michigan. Students who would otherwise have attended the local community college may use the subsidy to matriculate at WMU. And students who without the Promise might not have attended college at all may take advantage of the benefit to go to a community college. Previous research suggests that the Promise has in fact increased interest among eligible KPS graduates in enrolling at Michigan's flagship schools.

Because admission to and graduation from more-demanding colleges requires students to have stronger academic preparation, the tuition benefits of the Promise also have the potential to encourage students to work harder and achieve more in high school. Yet despite the Promise's incentives for improving performance, students may not respond as hoped. Some students may view the Promise's benefits as too uncertain and too delayed, and students who want to improve their academic performance may not know how to do so.

Our study takes advantage of the unexpected announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise to study its effects on student achievement and behavior in high school. Specifically, we examine how the achievement and behavior of individual students eligible for a tuition subsidy changed after the program was launched. We find clear evidence that the Promise reduced student behavior problems. Our results on academic performance for all students are unfortunately not precise enough to draw strong conclusions. Even though our estimates of the program's impact are not statistically significant, we cannot rule out the possibility of substantial positive effects. For African American students, however, the Promise both improved behavior and had a dramatic positive effect on high school GPAs.

For African American students, the Promise both improved behavior and had a dramatic positive effect on high school GPAs.

Kalamazoo Public Schools

A predominantly urban school system, the Kalamazoo Public Schools have faced declining enrollment for many years. This reflects, in part, the modest pace of economic growth in Michigan and Kalamazoo. It also reflects the Kalamazoo district's location in a center city that has more economic problems than the surrounding metropolitan area. …

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