When Gov. Rick Snyder this week announced his big, long-awaited plan to rescue the Detroit Public Schools he also promised to raise money to send all of the district’s graduates to community colleges or training programs. The idea is modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, a similar but more ambitious plan launched in 2005 that provides full scholarships for that city’s graduates to any Michigan public college or university. Anonymous donors pony up $20 million a year for the program, which has inspired similar programs in 23 communities across the country, including five others in Michigan, according to the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. (Complete list here.)
Not only do such programs increase college attendance, they give families who now reside in those communities an incentive to stay and entice new ones to relocate, spurring economic growth and development. The schools in El Dorado, Ark., for example, have seen a 5 percent enrollment increase since its program began four years ago. Detroit badly needs such a boost. The city lost 25 percent of its population over the past decade and 44 percent of its students since 2003 but did not cut expenses fast enough, which contributed to a $327 million deficit for this year.
The local “promise” programs vary. The one in Pittsburgh requires students t0 attend school at least 90 percent of the time and lets them attend private colleges. The El Dorado program covers out-of-state as well as in-state tuition as well as the cost of books and room and board. Typically the programs index the value of the scholarships to the number of years students have attended school in the city.
A University of Arkansas at Little Rock report on El Dorado’s promise program found that it had the desired effect of increasing students’ college aspirations. But we know that just getting in to college doesn’t guarantee a diploma, especially if students are underprepared. Pittsburgh’s program reports that 73 percent of its 2008 graduates went on to a second year in college or university; 54 percent of Kalamazoo’s first group of students have graduated or are still in school. Only about half of students who start a two-year or four-year college program finish within six years. As Michelle Miller-Adams, a scholar at the W.E. Upjohn Institute, told the Hechinger Report: “We took the first hurdle down [not having money for college] and now can see all the hurdles behind it.”
(Education Sector Intern Marley Zeno researched and co-wrote this post.)