Anecdotally I’d say that there’s a lot of Kent Roosevelt High School graduates that end up going on to Kent State. I haven’t seen the data but I’m guessing many of the Kent kids choose that path because of financial reasons. It may be because their parents work at Kent State or it’s a short commute so they can save money and live at home. Any way you look at it, it makes sense, which is why I’ve been so impressed with other cities that have taken that common sense approach to a higher level and have started offering townie kids scholarships to attend their hometown university. It’s a pretty savvy way to take advantage of the local supply of kids and at the same time offer a great reason for living in the town that hosts the university. In a way it takes the town/gown friction and turns it on it’s head making the town a supplier for the gown.
I first ran across this idea in my last City, Kingsport Tennesee. They saw the enormous economic advantages that were afforded to university cities and they wanted a piece of the action. To their credit, they got really creative and came up with an innovative plan to partner with the regional community college to offer 2 years of community college to Kingsport High graduates for free and they put a new campus in downtown Kingsport. Does it cost something, you bet, but it’s paid it back many times over in the economic stimulus it’s provided and as near as I can tell it’s been a huge success from every perspective.
Imagine the power of being able to market your community to new families or businesses by offering free college education. Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is — if you want to attract families to live in the community this would do it — which is why some of the distressed college towns have adopted this program with great success.
One of the more celebrated programs has been in Kalamazoo Michigan and after reading their story I have to say this idea definitely deserves some thoughtful discussion in Kent.
By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY
A scholarship program that offers free college tuition as a reward for attending public schools in a Michigan city is catching on in other communities seeking to revitalize their urban centers.
Since November 2005, when anonymous donors in Kalamazoo, Mich., launched the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship, about a dozen cities, such as Pittsburgh, Denver and El Dorado, Ark., have started similar programs.
Many more are considering doing so. Officials from 82 cities, including La Crosse, Wis.; San Francisco; and Portland, Ore., met recently in Kalamazoo to discuss how to adapt the concept.
“The spread of this movement nationally is something nobody really expected,” says Michelle Miller-Adams, visiting scholar at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo.
Details vary by city, but most programs basically follow Kalamazoo’s model: It pays most or all tuition and fees to public universities or community colleges in the state for students who graduate from the public school system, as long as they start attending there by ninth grade. Those who start in kindergarten get full tuition; those who start in ninth grade, 65%.
The scholarships, designed both to keep and draw families into the district, come as college costs climb and the tight economy squeezes family budgets.
“It keeps the American dream alive,” says Phyllis Furdell of the non-profit National League of Cities, who manages a project that works to reduce poverty.
Kalamazoo’s school district, where enrollments declined for decades, rose by more than 1,200 students after the program began. Thousands of jobs are being created, according to Southwest Michigan First, an economic development firm.
Financing is a challenge for cities interested in setting up free-tuition plans. Many rely partly on private funding. Few “can get an anonymous donor like Kalamazoo,” where the scholarship is funded into perpetuity, says Jeff Edmondson of Strive, a Cincinnati-area coalition drafting its own version. But “it has inspired us all to dream a little bigger.”
‘Promise’ energizes hurting Michigan community
By Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The night the Kalamazoo Promise was unveiled was pure magic.
People cheered, hugged and wept at the November 2005 school board meeting when the superintendent announced a group of anonymous donors — hoping to energize an economically depressed city — had promised free college tuition to students who graduate from the local school district.
Almaria Miller, a mother of four teenagers who watched from home on TV, did a little dance and sang “Hallelujah.”
The excitement hasn’t let up in this city, which had been reeling from a declining population as major employers like General Motors and the Upjohn Company, once a pharmaceutical giant, closed or moved out of town.
Within months of the Promise announcement, the community saw signs of a resurgence. It passed an $85 million bond issue to construct two schools, the first in decades. Over the next year, volunteering for schools shot up 134%, according to Kalamazoo Communities in Schools, a non-profit that coordinates such services. Mentors for Big Brothers Big Sisters nearly doubled.
Some local companies have returned to the downtown, including CSM Group, a construction management firm. More than 400 families from 32 states and a handful of foreign countries have moved into the area, boosting school enrollments by 1,200. It also spurred a wave of home buying and building inside the district boundaries even as home sales across the region decline.
“There’s a new breed of cheerleader in Kalamazoo as a direct result of the Promise,” says Patti Owens, managing director of Catalyst Development Co., which develops commercial properties in southwest Michigan. “It has heightened a sense of hope.”
Changing a community
Community leaders say their next task is to maximize the potential of the Promise.
Since the scholarship program began, a higher percentage of Kalamazoo students are applying to college, and high school graduation rates may be up slightly, says Bob Jorth, who administers the program. To date, 745 graduates have used the scholarship, and 71% have stayed in the community, attending either Western Michigan University or Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Miller’s son Derek, 19, was a high school junior when the Promise was announced and saw a change in his teachers’ attitudes immediately. “It felt like they expected a little more from us,” says Derek Miller, a Promise recipient who studies advertising at Western Michigan.
So far, though, there’s only modest evidence that student academic performance has improved as a result of the Promise. The big challenge, Jorth and others say, is how to help children from all Kalamazoo families see a college education in their future.
Like many proponents of the program, Jorth says its power is its simplicity. It pays all or most tuition and fees to any Michigan public university or community college for students who graduate from one of two local public high schools. Students who spend more time in the district get more money: A graduate who began in kindergarten gets 100% of tuition covered; a graduate who started in ninth grade gets 65%.
Students who start after ninth grade are ineligible.
Even so, parents, teachers and community leaders fear some students won’t pursue the scholarship, particularly low-income children who represent about 65% of the district’s enrollment, says Western Michigan University education professor Gary Miron, who is studying the Promise. “There are pockets of families, especially those in poverty, that don’t see this as something they’re going to benefit from,” he says.
Community organizers are developing strategies to change that.
In August, the school district will send every family a guide outlining what’s expected of children, parents and educators as children progress from birth to 12th grade. For example, it says parents of kindergarteners should get and use a library card. Educators should provide families of kindergarteners with a school schedule.
The Promise “has tremendous potential, but it’s not as simple as add water and stir,” says Superintendent Michael Rice.
It ‘kept me in Kalamazoo’
Almaria Miller and her husband, Johnny, say there’s more to the Promise than money.
The family had considered moving to Florida, where Johnny and Almaria grew up, because his job was not secure. He worked at a pharmaceutical company — until his job was eliminated a few months after the scholarship was announced.
The Promise “kept me in Kalamazoo,” says Johnny Miller, 56, who chose to retire rather than relocate.
In return for the scholarship, he tells his kids they have an obligation. “Someone has (taken) an interest in them being successful,” he says. “As a group of people to have that kind of faith in our youth, I tell them, their job now is to not let them down.”
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