Is Free College a Good Idea?

The idea of free college surfaced during the recent election.  Is it a good idea?  It’s generally agreed that college graduates make more money over a lifetime, along with other advantages.  (I Googled “benefits of a college education” and got 373,000 hits.)  But college isn’t for everybody and such programs are very expensive.  So, on balance, are they worth doing?

Meet the “Kalamazoo Promise”.  Kalamazoo, Michigan is a rust-belt city of 75,000 people that’s seen much better times — Checker cabs aren’t made anymore.  Yet in 2005, a group of anonymous donors agreed to pay for up to four years of college tuition for students (with some restrictions) in that district.  Today the program is still going strong.

Is it working?  Basically, yes.  Kalamazoo is now the fastest-growing school district in the state.  Seventy percent of the students now graduate from high school (although that’s still below the national average of 83 percent).  At least 90 school districts and cities across the country have started their own versions.  Some credit the Promise with literally saving Kalamazoo.

How long can it continue?  The Promise is still being funded by private donors and the city itself needs private money to pay for essential services, so there is still much progress to be made.  Still, it’s considered one of the most ambitious experiments in the nation and it has provided a brighter future for hundreds of students.

To learn about the program go to the Kalamazoo Promise website,  https://www.kalamazoopromise.com/ .  There is also an excellent explanation of the program at  http://www.csmonitor.com/EqualEd/2016/1217/Did-free-college-save-this-city .

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