The City Where College is Free

It’s called “The Promise”.   Any high school graduate in Kalamazoo, Michigan  gets to go to college for free.

The website Kalamazoo Promise lays it out clearly —

1. The Kalamazoo Promise is for ALL students of the Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS).

2. You must reside within the boundaries of KPS.

3. You must have at least all of the high school years (9-12) in KPS (enrollment & residency) and graduate from KPS (Central / Loy Norrix/ Phoenix).

4. The Kalamazoo Promise will not end. It is set up to go on for many years to come.

5. The Kalamazoo Promise is a 4 year scholarship (a bachelor degree or 130 credits, whichever occurs first).

6. You have ten years from the time you graduate from high school to use your Promise and can start and stop any time.

7. The Kalamazoo Promise covers tuition and mandatory fees.

8. Students sign up for The Kalamazoo Promise at the beginning of their senior year. Meetings are held for all seniors each fall. There are two simple forms to fill out for The Kalamazoo Promise.

9. There is an appeal process for students during their senior year, especially for hardship cases (e.g., custody, death in the family, and foster
care placement).

10. All students using The Kalamazoo Promise at KVCC may attend part-time.

How can this be possible?   In the mid-2000s, a group of donors realized something dramatic was needed to turn around  a declining Rust Belt city.  By 2005, they had decided this type of educational incentive was exactly what the community needed, and they announced the Promise that November.

Has it worked? The Promise has been credited with increasing high school enrollment and helping stabilize the district.  College enrollment of Kalamazoo graduates has increased from 60%  to 69%, and students obtaining degrees within six years after high school graduation has risen from 36% to 48%.

But if you haven’t heard of this before, it’s not as unusual as you might think.  According to Time magazine (July 11-18, 2016, page 80), more than 50 communities around the country have established some form of these scholarships.

Of course there are limitations.  Kalamazoo still has social problems to solve (See “Free College is Not Enough” at  But this is definitely a step in the right direction.


The official Kalamazoo Promise website is .

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