Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Promise Sets Record Straight

Posted by Maica Pichler on August 12, 2015 at 7:54 AM

Richard Reeves, senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institute, recently took time out of his studies on economic mobility to pen an editorial lambasting the Kalamazoo Promise because “free college doesn’t fix everything.”  His commentary was so wrong and uninformed that Bob Jorth, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Promise felt compelled to respond.  His response unfortunately didn’t get the same coverage, but it was so well done that we felt all of our followers who might have been equally outraged by the Reeves hit piece should have a chance to read it in full. All we can say is, Bob, thanks for putting the record straight and Mr. Reeves in his place. 


In an op-ed written by Richard V. Reeves entitled “Free college? It doesn’t fix everything,” Mr. Reeves discusses the “so called Kalamazoo Promise,” and calls it a scheme. As the Executive Director of the Kalamazoo Promise I can assure you that is our legal name. We were established in 2006 to award The Kalamazoo Promise scholarship to graduates of the Kalamazoo Public Schools as a well-defined scholarship program with specific qualifications designed to impact parental decisions relating to preparing students for post-secondary education.

The Promise, as we refer to it, was never intended to ‘fix everything’. It is established in the belief that post-secondary education is not a luxury but rather a necessity for people who wish to succeed and thrive in the 21st century economy. We have no illusion that it is a quick fix or an easy fix. We realized that there are entrenched systems and biases in our society that also need to be addressed in order for all students to successfully access and complete their post-secondary credentials.

Kalamazoo was in many respects a typical mid-western manufacturing based economy, but it has also been a community of innovation and philanthropy. It has been a community that has believed in and invested in education as a valuable community resource. The Promise is a continuation of that heritage.

Mr. Reeves notes the early success we have in getting our graduates to enroll in college, with college going rates of nearly 95% for the 1st several cohorts of Kalamazoo Public School graduates, not just Promise eligible. This is a district that has a 70% free and reduced lunch rate for its students and is a majority minority population, this college going rate is no small accomplishment!

A rigorous study just released by the W.E. Upjohn Institute is the first analysis of The Promise to attempt to look at the changes in college going and college completion rates pre and post Promise announcement. They found a significant improvement in both areas, across all demographic groups. Certainly, they also find disparity among the minority population and white students as it relates to college completion. We would expect that it will take time to narrow those gaps, but we also realize those gaps can only be narrowed if students can access college in the first place.

The Promise is a valuable piece of fixing inequality in Kalamazoo. Every independent analysis completed on The Promise since its inception indicate positive outcomes in areas ranging from student behaviour to student academic performance to community involvement to college access and completion. Mr. Reeves seems to think that these improvements aren’t worth the investment. He suggests that The Promise donors are ‘just throwing money’ at the problem. In Kalamazoo we see it as an investment in our future and a catalyst for more wide ranging improvements to change the fundamental economy and society of Kalamazoo. We are quite certain that the people of Kalamazoo welcome this investment.

We are entering our 10th year, which seems like a long time in a society infatuated with fast food and quick fixes, but the donors have set up The Kalamazoo Promise to go on in perpetuity realizing that this is a long journey. We welcome any family that wants to join us in Kalamazoo to be a part of this transformation

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