Kalamazoo Public Schools is the school district neighboring the Portage Public School District that I graduated from. Portage is a suburb of Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the most awful definition of that word, a small town established in 1963 because of white-flight from the city of Kalamazoo. Substitute teachers in the area, for some reason, felt comfortable sharing their less than favorable views of the Kalamazoo school system. However, those views may be shifting gradually, if the administrators and donors behind the Kalamazoo Promise have any say in the matter.
The Kalamazoo Promise is a scholarship program for students graduating from the KPS system and living in the city that was announced in 2005 and is seeking to make improvements not only in education but in economic growth as well. The Promise has received national attention, even attracting President Obama to speak at Kalamazoo Central High School’s commencement in 2010. Local research organization, the W.E. Upjohn Institute, supports community mobilization efforts, helps other communities engineer similar programs, and heads most research on the scholarship’s impact.
Janice M. Brown, KPS superintendent, says the district needs to focus on the four A’s: “affordability, access, achievement and attitude.” The Promise obviously helps with increasing the affordability and access to college, but achievement and attitude are main foci for the district where one third of students live below the poverty line. While the schools are making strides in improving education, another key component of Promise-eligibility is designed to improve local and state economies.
The eligibility criteria for the Promise scholarship constitutes an ingenious urban planning tactic to retain and increase human capital in the area. The Promise provides incentives to citizens to remain within the city and the school system and also attracts young families and employees to the area. And, by making this astounding scholarship applicable only to Michigan universities, Kalamazoo Promise planners are doing their part to stop the brain drain from the state by keeping students in-state for college and making them more likely to remain after college graduation. The complete design of this program is a wholly economic one based on long-term loyalty to the community and state.
What are the next steps Kalamazoo can take to retain their public school graduates?
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