A "Promise" of a College Education

college.jpg The opportunity for individuals to pursue a college education represents a critical component of the American dream and an irreplaceable pillar of our democratic society. Yet, each year the hopes of hundreds of thousands of deserving students go unfulfilled because they simply cannot afford to pay for college. The federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance reports that between 2001 and 2010, more than 4.4 million Americans will be unable to afford a four-year college. Of those, two million will not be able to afford any college at all. Students contemplating college today faces rapidly rising costs; widespread cuts in federal, state and institutional grants; and confusing, fragmented means to find financial aid. This deepening crisis of diminishing educational opportunity threatens the vital economic, political and national security interests of the United States.

Like other issues of vital national importance, effective solutions to this college access problem are being spearheaded at the city/community level. A great example is Kalamazoo Promise . According to its website, the “Kalamazoo Promise is a scholarship offered to every Kalamazoo Public School student. The qualifications for this scholarship are extremely simple and the scholarship itself is even more generous…But the Kalamazoo Promise is much more than a scholarship program; it is a catalyst to making the Greater Kalamazoo Community an even greater community. It is inspiring Kalamazoo Public School students, families, teachers and staff. It is re-energizing the citizens of Kalamazoo and the Greater Kalamazoo community.”

Think they’re exaggerating? According to an article on National Public Radio, “The Promise is also helping a struggling urban school district that has faced two decades of cuts and declining enrollment. This fall [2006—the year the program began], the district's classrooms have surged by nearly 1,000 new students, a 10 percent jump. The burst in enrollment has created more than 30 teaching positions in the school district.

Kalamazoo Promise administrator Robert Jorth says he gets calls daily from families interested in moving into the district. New students have come from 30 states and nearly 65 communities in Michigan, he says. While local economists say it's too soon to chart the economic effect of the Promise, there are already positive signs. Local Realtors say home sales are up 6 percent this year and prices are up an average of 7 percent.”

Or check out this clip on the program from CBS News that states, “They have 800 new families in the school district, a $10 million housing development, rising property values and two new schools.”

But beyond the economic boosts to the community that a college “promise” program brings, first and foremost it brings the promise of a college education, an investment in the American dream, and the hope of our nation’s future. The benefits of a college degree are numerous:
• The average college graduate earns more than $1,000,000 more over the course of a career than the average high school graduate
• College graduates contribute to a strong civil society by voting and serving the community in higher numbers than non-college graduates.
• College graduates contribute to a strong economic base by driving innovation and expanding the tax base.
• It is also the case that jobs requiring a college degree are the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy.
Is your community making a college promise to its citizens? Please share your lessons learned (and benefits gained) so that communities contemplating such a program can gain from your wisdom.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jan 04, 2008 in Economic Development | Education | High Net Worth Donors | Youth | Permalink | Comment