My colleague at the Upjohn Institute, Michelle Miller-Adams, runs a blog on the Kalamazoo Promise. The Kalamazoo Promise, announced in November 2005, guarantees every graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools up to four years of tuition at any public university or community college in Michigan. The Kalamazoo Promise is funded by anonymous private donors.
What relevance does the Kalamazoo Promise have to my blog and book about early childhood programs? The main relevance is that the Kalamazoo Promise was intended by the private donors to promote the economic development of the Kalamazoo area. The Promise is intended to promote economic development in two ways. First, the availability of this benefit will help attract parents, and attract businesses due to this attractive effect on parents. Second, the Promise will increase the educational attainment of Kalamazoo students, many of whom will return after college to the Kalamazoo area, which will also generate new economic activity. These Promise effects on local economic development are quite similar to how early childhood programs can affect local economic development.
So far, there is considerable evidence that the Promise has increased Kalamazoo Public Schools enrollment and stabilized KPS’s ethnic composition. There also is some evidence that KPS student achievement has increased. Other data on the Kalamazoo Promise can be found at the Upjohn Institute’s research hub on the Promise, and its associated data collection web page.
From a broader perspective, the U.S. faces the challenge of significantly increasing the quality of our human capital, in order to better compete in the world economy. This challenge requires us to broaden our concept of education. In the 19th century, the U.S. led the world in adopting graded, “common schools”, through 8th grade. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the U.S. led the world in adopting free high schools for all and high school graduation as the expectation for all students. In today’s economy, the U.S. needs to broaden our concept of education to include early childhood programs for many more children, and to expand post-secondary education for many more students.
Michelle has also written an excellent book on the Kalamazoo Promise, The Power of a Promise, which describes the background and early history and results of the Promise. Her blog follows up on that book.
The Kalamazoo Promise is of interest well beyond Kalamazoo. A number of cities and states around the U.S. are exploring setting up similar programs, with various combinations of private and public funding. There have so far been three annual national conferences discussing Promise-style programs, and the various economic, political, and administrative issues involved in setting these programs up and evaluating them.