Free College: The Kalamazoo Promise

Email a Friend
From and

With soaring tuition costs, students and parents across the country are wondering how they will pay for college — except for those in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In 2005, School Superintendent Janice Brown announced that anonymous donors had pledged to pay the tuition at Michigan public colleges for every student who graduates from Kalamazoo’s district high schools. The pledge, now known as the Kalamazoo Promise, is entering its eighth year. The city’s high school test scores have increased four consecutive years, dropout rates have declined, and enrollment in advanced placement courses has increased. 

Jasmine Granville is one student who went through the Kalamazoo Promise project. When she did not receive the basketball scholarship she'd hoped for, she went to college for free on the Kalamazoo Promise. 

"Basketball took a lot away from my schooling," Jasmine says. "Once I knew I had the Promise, and I could keep my grades up, and not have to work as hard on basketball, basketball kind of took a back burner to my education."

Janice Brown says the re-ordering of priorities that Jasmine experienced is happening throughout the Kalamazoo community, as the town focuses increasingly on young people and education. "It's a catalyst for tremendous community transformation. We all have a part in that, and that's the beauty of it."

Brown believes that the Kalamazoo Promise could serve as a model for a larger scale project, perhaps even a nation-wide initiative, and Jasmine agrees that all students should have access to a college education. As Brown says, in New York City the cost would be astronomical, but there are certainly "enough billionaires" to pay for it. "But the question is, is it a private responsibility or a public responsibility?"