Has the offer of free college for Kalamazoo Public Schools students been a success over the last 13 years? The Wall Street Journal reveals it depends who you are.

More than 300 cities across the country have followed the model of offering free college to public school students started in Kalamazoo in 2005. The Wall Street Journal reports, locally, "since the program took effect in June 2006, they [Kalamazoo Promise administrators] have paid $124 million in tuition subsidies for 5,735 students." But are they finishing college and earning a diploma?

The Upjohn Institute tells WSJ, since the initiation of the promise, "college enrollment has soared across all racial groups. Among all students who graduated from a Kalamazoo public high school from 2006 through 2017, 75% enrolled in college within six months, versus a national average of about 67% and only 58% in Kalamazoo before the program." But the barriers to finishing college are more than financial. Other handicaps are "high rates of single-parent households, teen pregnancy and homelessness," researchers have found.

The challenges that people bring with them to education because of poverty don’t just go away because we say we’re going to pay for college education.

-Bob Jorth, Kalamazoo Promise Executive Director


The most startling figures have to do with race. The rate of white students earning a bachelor's degree within 6 years of entering the program (46%) was triple that of the rate for black students (14%). "And among high-school graduates from mid/high-income households—defined as those not eligible for free or reduced-cost school lunches—the percentage of students earning some kind of college credential jumped to 56% from 43%, a contrast to the nearly unchanged figure for black students." Clearly, the Kalamazoo Promise is a great start, yet not all the barriers to completing college are financial.

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