As we've noted in previous blog entries there are now two cities in America whose high school students are guaranteed a free, in-state college education. Both Kalamazoo, MI and El Dorado, AR have received a lot of attention and many educators and community development practitioners are holding their breath to see what sort of results these promises yield.
The early results are promising. A recent survey of new families in the Kalamazoo area found that they relocated, in part, because of the Promise. Property values are rising in the area and some have speculated that the Promise has helped this phenomenon as well. School enrollments are the higher in the Kalamazoo school district than anywhere else in the state. Chamber of Commerce officials are touting this as an economic development initiative that is helping keep companies in the area and may attract new companies in the future. Overall, there is a great deal of excitement and anticipation by residents about the national and international attention that has been accorded the Kalamazoo Promise.
It can't be expected that results from these types of initiatives will be immediate. In El Dorado less than half the high school senior class signed-up for their free college education in this, the first year of the El Dorado Promise. The program's administrator told the Arkansas Times that he anticipated the program having greater participation as younger students begin to consider the possibility of college in their future. This article also has an in-depth account of the El Dorado Promise and a comparison with the Kalamazoo Promise that is worth a read.
Not surprisingly, other areas are considering the Promise approach as well. Muskegon, MI is the latest community considering a version of the initiative. In the case of Muskegon there currently is no private donor who could provide funding so there is talk of a 1.5% tax increase to fund the program and a possibility that the program will be restricted to those residents who have lived in the community for all 12 years of their child's education. Muskegon officials are hopeful that local donors will contribute enough to make a tax unnecessary -- or at least less than the proposed amount.
I am looking forward to hearing more about whether these Promises are helping fuel development in these communities and will keep you updated on the latest as we hear it.