Champions of Wayne Blog
As a lifelong Michigander, I have long been aware of the Kalamazoo Promise and have had a layman’s understanding of its effect on the community. Having attended PromiseNet 2015 in Kalamazoo, I am now aware of the burgeoning network of Promise communities:
The programs differ in structure. Some (Kalamazoo, for instance) are "first dollar" programs, while others are "last dollar" programs. Programs also vary in terms of student eligibility requirements (minimum GPA, attendance rates, etc.).
Not Just Another Conference
After randomly meeting a couple guys from the New Haven Promise who told me about the event, and with generous support from Champions of Wayne donors, I attended PromiseNet without expectations. A riveting welcome speech by Mr. Wes Moore rallied altruistic enthusiasm, and we moved to plenary research session in an effort to obtain answers to the question: What is the impact of Promise programs?
Impact on Enrollment
It came as no surprise that Promise programs boost student enrollment. Interestingly, however, most enrollment growth is due to greater retention and has less to do with new students moving in. The Kalamazoo Public Schools saw a large jump in enrollment due to new students only during the first year of the Kalamazoo Promise, and has consistently retained students at much higher levels over the past 10 years.
The enrollment numbers speak for themselves, and it is difficult to argue that the enrollment increase is due to other factors.
Impact on College Enrollment and Completion
This is where things get tricky. Overall, results are positive. During the Kalamazoo Promise era, significantly more Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) students (women and minorities in particular) have enrolled in, and graduated from (with some sort of credential), college. Researchers from the Upjohn made this clear:
What is still not clear to me is if these changes are due to causation (change in behavior/motivation of KPS students) or correlation (college-bound students moved into the district to take advantage of the KP). The Upjohn researchers did point out that new students to KPS in 2006 were less poor and had higher test scores than previous new students. This trend continued in 2007, but not afterward.
This was a well-organized event with many passionate contributors, and it is evident that communities can benefit greatly from Promise programs. I am curious as to how surrounding communities and school districts are affected by Promise programs. More than half of new enrollment to Kalamazoo Public Schools in 2006 came from other districts in Michigan.
One speaker at the conference referred to the Kalamazoo Promise as a modern-day version of the Emancipation Proclamation. I wonder if stakeholders of neighboring districts feel the same way.
In the end, however, it is difficult to argue with private donors increasing access to higher education for those who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
By: Sean Galvin
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