Michigan Promise Zones

Posted by Maica Pichler on August 10, 2016 at 11:51 AM

While other states like Tennessee and Oregon created statewide promise programs recently, the Michigan legislature was ahead of the game in 2009 when they created “Promise Zones” in an effort to incent local community-funded promise programs. Through this initiative, Michigan has taken a unique approach to ensure that every student has the opportunity to attend college.

Kalamazoo’s Success Inspires Michigan

In 2005, anonymous donors made it possible to provide all graduates of the Kalamazoo Public Schools full tuition scholarships to any state university or community college in Michigan. The impact of The Kalamazoo Promise was immediate. Families suddenly wanted their children to attend the Kalamazoo Public Schools. By the time school opened in the fall of 2006, enrollment had grown by 10 percent, reversing decades of decline. More students were staying in school, and more would go to college. Today the Kalamazoo Public Schools take pride in a broad set of upward indicators—from a spike in the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses to the number of graduates who have earned their college degrees through the Promise. And on the economic front, Kalamazoo weathered the Great Recession far better than other Michigan cities and has consistently maintained an unemployment rate below the state average, read more here. Kalamazoo’s initiative prominently inspired the state of Michigan and now inspires communities across the United States.


CFCT Director of Communications Brian Newman, Executive Director Emeritus of Kalamazoo Promise Janice Brown and CFCT President Morley Winograd

Michigan Promise Communities Emerge

Less than a year after the Kalamazoo Promise awarded its first scholarships, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm called for the establishment of “Promise Zones” in Michigan’s economically distressed cities. Each zone would be a public-private partnership committed to ensuring that every child in a community had a tuition-free path to at least an associate's degree. Lawmakers of both parties collaborated to develop Promise Zones legislation in 2007 and by January 2009, it had been signed into law.

Promise Zones are local public-private partnerships that aim to make college free for every high school graduate to at least one institution for at least two years. Some have gone far beyond this threshold offering full tuition at multiple universities across Michigan. Promise Zones are led by individual Promise Zone Authorities composed of local public official and private sector leaders. Ten promise-zone areas were originally authorized in some of the more impoverished communities in the state and since then, eight of those zones have been able to establish local promise programs while others are still being developed. The promise zone programs are providing free college tuition to not only students graduating from public high schools but also to student graduating from charter, private and parochial high schools in their community. 


The Michigan Promise Zones take a dynamic approach to funding. Many of them are last-dollar scholarship where students receive a portion of their aid from Pell Grants and other need-based aid. Private contributions, modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, provide another large portion of the funds, depending on the zone. Finally, revenue collected through a state property tax increment financing mechanism provides additional funds based on gross and property tax revenues.

The Zones

Baldwin School District

In 2009, Baldwin was designated a Michigan Promise Zone. Of the zones authorized in the legislation, Baldwin is the only rural zone. Baldwin's Promise goes beyond what the state statute's minimum requires and provides a "middle-dollar" scholarship of up to $5,000 per year for 4 years to every single graduate of Baldwin High School regardless of merit or need, for a maximum total of up to $20,000 per student. To qualify for the full promise, students only need to have been a Baldwin Schools student since 9th grade, reside in the district boundaries, graduate from high school, and complete the FAFSA. The scholarship can be used at any public university, community college, or private college in the state of Michigan. The Baldwin Promise has catalyzed a more focused college readiness agenda within the school district and changed the culture of the entire community as described in this excellent article from The Atlantic.


Benton Harbor School District

The Benton Harbor Promise launched in 2011 with a mission to help all students in the greater Benton Harbor area achieve a post-secondary education. The program provides full tuition and mandatory fees at any accredited community college or Career Technical school in Michigan where the student is accepted. The program also offers various opportunities for students through high school programs, counseling and  career guidance, and work internships throughout the post secondary education experience. “We believe that every child in our community deserves the type of education that will prepare them for life after high school.”

Battle Creek

The Battle Creek Promise Zone guarantees all graduates from high schools located in the Cereal City a tuition-free path to an associates degree at Kellogg Community College through partnerships with two other scholarship programs.  The first is Battle Creek Legacy Scholars, one of the first Promise programs in the nation.  It was formed in 2005 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle Creek based W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Legacy Scholars provides community college scholarships to graduates of Battle Creek Public Schools and a neighboring school district.  A second scholarship program, administered by the Battle Creek community foundation, provides a corresponding scholarship opportunity to students who graduate from charter and parochial high schools located in the Promise Zone. Their vision is "to strengthen the community through education generation by generation as a vibrant place to live, learn, prosper and grow.” This zone provides a last-dollar scholarship to Kellogg Community College for up to two years of tuition, mandatory fees, and a book scholarship.  

Hazel Park School District

The Promise Zone guarantees all resident graduates of Hazel Park Schools a tuition-free path to an Associate degree, often through pre-existing scholarships. This opportunity can be used at any accredited trade school, community college, college or university in the state of Michigan. A Promise Zone Scholarship is paid directly to a student's institution to cover tuition and fees only (books excluded). Promise Zone Scholars may receive other merit-based scholarships, but Pell, TIP or other government funding (loans not included) will offset a student's Promise Zone Scholarship. A Promise scholar must be a full-time student and must maintain a 2.0 grade point average or higher once they begin college to continue receiving his or her scholarship after the initial semester.


Lansing School District

The Lansing Promise is a scholarship program designed to transform the lives of students, families and the Lansing community. It inspires students to complete high school, sharpens focus on academic achievement and provides a direct path to post-secondary educational opportunities. The Promise is an award offered to graduates of public and private schools within the Lansing School District (“LSD”) boundaries. It provides the financial assistance necessary to obtain a two-year degree or its equivalent at an eligible school. Students who are striving to successfully complete their high school education will be met with several scholarship options for post-secondary education through two powerful higher education institutions – Lansing Community College and Michigan State University.

Pontiac School District

The Pontiac Promise Zone is a program that enables students within the Pontiac School District to obtain financial assistance to attend any college or university in Michigan and to earn a two-year associate degree or its equivalent. If sufficient funding is raised, the program will be expanded to support the students pursuing their bachelor's degrees.

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Saginaw School District

The Saginaw Promise aims to inspire a culture of higher education. In their words, it is “designed to serve as a catalyst for economic development in Saginaw, an initiative to retain and attract new families and businesses to the community through a focus and support for postsecondary education for all of its graduating students.” Since the Saginaw Promise was launched in 2010, high school graduation rates have significantly increased while dropout rates decreased and college enrollment increased by over 20% from 2010-2013.  Scholarships are prorated based upon the number of years K-12 attendance in the Saginaw Promise Zone. Eligibility for scholarships is two years and requires that a student reapply every year that they want to be considered for a scholarship. There is no GPA or income requirement.



Muskegon was the first regional Michigan Promise Zone covering a county wide area in West Michigan.  They see the zone as a “commitment to the young people of the community that if they work hard they will be able to attain at-least a 2-year degree, tuition free.” The Muskegon Area Promise covers multiple communities and provides services to rural, suburban, and urban school districts in the county. They are currently servicing 3 local school districts and are soon expanding the promise zone program to cover all 11 school districts county-wide. The Muskegon Area Promise is currently the only Michigan Promise Zone to have a merit component.

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