Even With Free Tuition, Hurdles Remain for Raising Number of College Graduates
By David Jesse
When Simon Boehme landed President Barack Obama as commencement speaker for his high school graduation last spring, he knew exactly what the president would highlight – the city’s unique college scholarship program, now being emulated in cities across the U.S. “America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo,” Obama said at Boehme’s commencement, praising the anonymous donors who in 2005 started the Kalamazoo Promise in this former manufacturing stronghold of 73,000. Already, 1,250 Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) graduates, or 81 percent of those eligible, have taken advantage of free or vastly reduced tuition to any public college or university in Michigan, which costs the anonymous donors about $20 million a year in tuition fees. Students pay their own fees, books, room and board.
Just 54 percent of the first recipients are either still in college or have graduated, a stark reminder that it will take more than money to achieve the president’s ambitious goal of leading the world in college attainment by 2020. Nationally, getting students through college has long been a challenge: only half of those who start certificate or degree programs at two- and four-year institutions finish within six years, U.S. Education Department data show.