The Upjohn Institute website recently posted a working paper of mine, co-authored with my colleague Marta Lachowska, on the Kalamazoo Promise. Our working paper examines the immediate effects of the Kalamazoo Promise on student achievement and behavior in high schools.
The Kalamazoo Promise, announced in November 2005, provides graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools with up to 100% tuition subsidies for attendance at Michigan public universities and community colleges. The program is universal, with no conditions for demonstrating financial need, and no academic pre-requisites for high school performance except for being admitted to the college or university. The tuition subsidy is also generous, depending on length of time attending Kalamazoo Public Schools. Students entering after 9th grade are ineligible; students entering at 9th grade get a 65% tuition subsidy, and then the subsidy ratchets up until students entering at kindergarten get a 100% subsidy. The program is also unusual in being funded by anonymous private donors. (For more on the Kalamazoo Promise, see the book by my colleague Michelle Miller-Adams, or the portion of the Institute’s website dealing with the Promise.)
The Kalamazoo Promise has since inspired similar efforts in over 30 other cities. Some of these “Promise-style” tuition subsidies use private dollars, while others use public dollars. Particularly when public dollars are used, an important issue is what are the broad public benefits of a Promise-style program?
The Promise was intended by the donors as an economic development program. The model is that the Promise will attract more and better jobs to a community both immediately and in the long-term. The immediate effects of a Promise style program are based on attracting parents. The long-term effects of a Promise-style program are based on improving outcomes for local students, some of whom are likely to remain in the Kalamazoo area, which would boost the quality of the area’s labor supply.
We do not have firm direct evidence of positive effects of the Kalamazoo Promise on local economic development. For example, there is no strong evidence as of yet of Promise effects on jobs, housing prices, or property values.
However, we do have some indirect evidence of Promise effects that should be reflected in improved local economic development. From previous research, we know that the Promise has had sizable effects on KPS enrollment, increasing enrollment by over 20%. In addition, this enrollment effect has been broadly based across all ethnic groups, which has contributed to stabilizing the racial integration of Kalamazoo Public Schools. These enrollment effects are highly unusual; I know of no other policy that could have increased enrollment and stabilized racial integration in a district such as Kalamazoo Public Schools, which was clearly in 2005 well beyond customary tipping points for school demographic change.
This newest paper by me and my colleague Marta Lachowska shows significant effects on individual student behavior. We find that students eligible for the Promise, compared to otherwise similar high school students who were not eligible, had fewer suspension days. In addition, the Promise is estimated to significantly increase the high school GPA (grade point average) of African-American students. These effects are noteworthy in that it is difficult for policymakers to improve student behavior and performance once students get to high school.
In my view, Promise-style programs and early childhood programs complement each others as ways to boost the economic fortunes of a local community. As detailed on this blog, and in my book Investing in Kids, early childhood programs intervene early to get kids on the right path, with the hard skills and soft skills to learn more as they progress in the K-12 system. Promise-style programs provide incentives for students, school staff, parents and the community to all work together to make higher educational attainment a reality.
Both programs together have the potential for boosting a region’s labor skills. Early childhood programs have already shown through rigorous experimentation that they can do so. Promise-style programs are an ongoing social experiment that has great potential for boosting regional skills, with more study needed to confirm the magnitude of these effects.