This week, Vox’s The Impact podcast analyzed the successes — and the limitations — of the Kalamazoo Promise. Click here to listen to the full podcast.
The program has boosted high school graduation rates and college completion rates. It has revolutionized the culture of Kalamazoo Public Schools, where children can grow up looking forward to college and the opportunities it offers.
But 15 years after the launch of the promise program, Kalamazoo’s high school and college graduates are still neck-in-neck with the national average.
The podcast follows two Kalamazoo Promise students: Aaliyah and Olivia.
While Olivia had a stable family and relatively few hurdles in high school, Aaliyah’s family struggled to make ends meet, and she was forced to move in with her grandparents. Yet the promise of free college and the persistence of KPS teachers carried her through, and both students graduated from high school.
In college, Aaliyah’s part-time job forced her to choose between going to class and paying her bills. The community college offered little to no support. Then, Aaliyah became pregnant, had a son, and “stopped out” of school to take care of him.
Oliva had a stable home and a college-educated parent to support her through high school, but when she got to college, she found herself in an abusive relationship and struggled with mental health issues. She took time off for medical treatment and rest.
In the meantime, the Kalamazoo Promise had begun offering resources to help students get back in school, catch up, get organized, learn technical skills, and navigate financial and administrative hurdles.
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