Kids in Kalamazoo told they’ll all receive a college scholarship

SATURDAY, NOV. 12, 2005

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Worried that you won’t be able to afford college for your little ones by the time they graduate from high school? Relocating a business and looking to give your employees a no-cost, first-class perk?

Come to Kalamazoo.

Civic leaders hope to see a transformation in this largely middle-class city of 77,000, thanks to an anonymous group of benefactors that is offering nearly all Kalamazoo’s high school graduates college scholarships for at least the next 13 years.

“This is truly a way for dreams to come true,” city School Superintendent Janice Brown said Friday.

The program, called The Kalamazoo Promise, could help attract businesses and homebuyers with children to this racially diverse community about 130 miles west of Detroit.

Other programs have offered scholarships to a school’s entire class or even a town: A foundation has given decades of scholarships to high school graduates in Philomath, Ore., a logging town of about 4,000.

The scope of the Kalamazoo program, however, is remarkable: The district has 10,300 students, a number that could grow with Thursday’s announcement of the scholarships.

“What a tremendous act of generosity on the part of the donors who made this possible and what a tremendous opportunity for all these children in Kalamazoo public schools who can now go to college and chase their dreams,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said.

The scholarships will be good at any of Michigan’s public universities or community colleges. Starting with the class of 2006, the four-year scholarships will be available to all students who entered the school system in the ninth grade or earlier.

The scholarships will cover between 65 percent and 100 percent of tuition and fees; those who enrolled in kindergarten would get a free ride.

For students at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, a full scholarship would be worth more than $7,000 this school year.

Brown would not give any details on the donors or disclose how much money they put up, but said the program was quietly in the works for three or four years. It will run for at least 13 years but may continue well after that, said district spokesman Alex Lee.

Floyd Branson, 39, who has lived in Kalamazoo for about 15 years, said he and his wife have a 4-year-old daughter who will start kindergarten next fall. “It’s going to be a great help,” said Branson, who runs a barbecue stand in town.

John T. Long III, president and chief executive of the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the scholarships will be a drawing card for new businesses. “This certainly gives us a strong weapon in that fight,” he said.

The biggest employers in the area are the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and Western Michigan, and the region is trying to attract companies to its new high-tech business park as it shifts away from its past as a paper-manufacturing center.

The scholarship program “says to the world we want to be a community that values education,” said Judith I. Bailey, WMU’s president. “We want to have a strong, educated citizenry because those individuals will become, in fact, our next entrepreneurs, our next physicians, our next volunteer core.”


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