Reducing Inequality through Universal, Place-Based College Scholarships: Lessons from the Kalamazoo Promise


Abstract: The Kalamazoo Promise, announced in 2005, is an innovative college-scholarship program available to every graduate of the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Public Schools. It is also the centerpiece of an economic development strategy to revitalize an urban community that has lost jobs and population over the past several decades. Programs such as the Kalamazoo Promise, which is being emulated in cities across the United States, open new avenues for the acquisition of human capital regardless of income level or academic achievement, while facilitating the creation of economic and social assets for the community. Following a brief explanation of the program itself, this paper examines the Kalamazoo Promise as a human capital-investment strategy and its usefulness as a mechanism for reducing inequality. I find that the Kalamazoo Promise and programs modeled on it hold great potential for reducing inequality, although not necessarily in expected ways. While full college scholarships in and of themselves open the path to free higher education for all youth in a community, the barriers to success remain high for economically disadvantaged and lower-achieving students. The more powerful influence of such programs on inequality comes from their role as a catalyst for change in the culture of the school district and for the alignment of a community’s resources around the broader goals of the program

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