Michigan Town Foots The Bill To Send Students To State Universities, Community Colleges

Community is defined as a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. For one Michigan city that characteristic would be generosity, as in the $50 million anonymous donors have spent to send the town’s high school graduates to college.

Finding the funds to pay for increasing tuition costs, wading through financial aid paperwork and being stuck with mountains of school loan debt aren’t things recent graduates in Kalamazoo, MI, have to worry about thanks to a program that takes aims to give each student the shot at getting a college education, NPR reports.

Since being launched by anonymous donors in 2005, the Kalamazoo Promise has spent about $50 million assisting more than 3,000 student pay for college.

The program aims to pay the tuition for most students who graduate from the district’s high schools who wish to attend any of Michigan’s public universities or community colleges.

One benefactor of the program, who recently graduated from Michigan State University, says that Promise lets students know they’re worthy of having an education.

“The stipulations for the Promise are not, you have to have a 3.5 GPA and all these extracurricular activities,” she tells NPR. “You have to just have the willpower to do it, and that’s pretty much it. And I just think that that’s an amazing blessing, that somebody or a group of people put that much faith in this community.”

The program has also done a lot to change the mindset for students and educators alike.

Before the program was announced there was little emphasis put on exploring specific higher education plans in the future, the graduate says. Now, students as young as elementary school have college-going expectations.

Michelle Miller-Adams, who wrote a book about the program, says Kalamazoo Promise has given students an outlet, and opportunity, to follow their passions.

“We see a great deal of freedom that students are experiencing in being able to follow their passion and, most importantly, graduating with either no or very low levels of debt,” she says. “And that opens up a huge range of possibilities. That opens up the possibility of graduate school for a lot of students. So the impacts are really pretty subtle and nuanced.”

Even with a future void of college debt, the program has seen students drop out at the same rate they would if they were paying for college themselves. But proponents of the program say that statistic is likely to change since the program is only in its eighth year of eligible classes.

“The reality is that if you have things going on in your life, either academically or more importantly in your home life, that are keeping you from being successful in school … the Kalamazoo Promise does not change those things,” Miller-Adams says. “The reality is that we are still a very high-poverty district in a high-poverty city.”

How One Michigan City Is Sending Kids To College Tuition-Free [NPR]