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Promise Scholarship Programs


Promise Scholarship Programs are a type of early awareness program in which a municipality partners with local philanthropists and/or companies to commit to covering in-state public college tuition for all students who graduate from the local public high schools.


The Kalamazoo Promise

The first promise program was the Kalamazoo Promise, started in November 2005 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Anonymous benefactors promised to provide four years of tuition and required fees at Michigan's public colleges to all students from the Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS). Students are responsible for their own room and board costs, as well as the cost of textbooks, supplies, transportation and miscellaneous personal expenses.

To qualify, the students must have attended high school in KPS at least from grades 9-12 and have graduated from a KPS high school (Central High School, Loy Norrix High School or Phoenix High School). Students who start in kindergarten receive a full tuition scholarship. The amount of the scholarship is reduced on a sliding scale for students who enter the school district in later grades, with students who enter as high school freshmen receiving 65% of tuition. There is no financial means testing, but participants are required to apply for federal and state student financial aid.

Students have ten years from high school graduation to use their Kalamazoo Promise scholarships.

Promise programs often provide academic and mentoring support for at-risk students.

The Kalamazoo Promise is an evolution of smaller programs in which philanthropists adopted a single cohort of students from a specific public school.

Other Promise Programs

Several other cities and towns have implemented their own promise programs, including:

Related organizations include:

PromiseNet is a network of neighborhoods that run Promise Programs or that have Promise Programs under development.

In 2012, the US Department of Education announced a Promise Neighborhoods program in which $60 million would be awarded to encourage the development of Promise Programs. About seven programs will receive new 3-5 year implementation grants with first-year funding of about $4 million to $6 million each and 14 programs will receive new planning grants of up to $500,000 each. The remaining funding will be provided to five implementation grant recipients from 2011.

Although there are other programs that call themselves a "Promise Scholarship", they do not have the key characteristics of a Promise Program, which include a guarantee of full-tuition scholarships to any in-state public college to students who graduate from a public high school after enrolling for at least grades 9-12.

See also the discussion of colleges with generous "no loans" financial aid policies, some of which are restricted to students from particular cities or a particular state.

Goals of Promise Programs

The goal of a promise program is to bootstrap improvements in all aspects of the ciy's economy, not just to help residents with college costs.

Promise programs can boost public school enrollment, which in turn can boost education quality. Improvements in education quality can increase high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates and college graduation rates. Admissions test scores have improved.

For example, in the first year of the Kalamazoo Promise, more than 1,000 additional students enrolled in KPS, and eventually enrollment increased by about 2,450. The school district can hire an additional teacher for every additional 25 students because of increased funding from the state. (The school district gets an extra $7,250 in state funding for every additional student.) The increased funding also allows the school district to upgrade facilities.

Promise programs also lead to improvements in nearby school districts as they try to compete, strengthening the entire region.

This can be transformative for the local community. Families move to the city, causing increases in real estate prices. It is a good tool for helping businesses to recruit people to move to the area.

The cost of endowing a promise program requires about $250 million.


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