Kalamazoo Promise changing the education game

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo Promise has changed the game in the increasingly competitive market of education.

It’s been more than eight years since the scholarship program was announced. The Kalamazoo Promise offers free college tuition to 58 colleges and universities in Michigan to students who graduate from a Kalamazoo Public Schools high school.

The Kalamazoo Promise has put West Michigan on the national map when it comes to education.

Von Washington Junior with the Kalamazoo Promise says it has drawn people from everywhere. In fact, they’ve seen a 27-percent increase in enrollment at Kalamazoo Public Schools since the promise began in 2005.

“Even communities outside of Kalamazoo are able to draw upon the power of a scholarship program in the fact that there’s support, a strong support in a large urban district for all students to succeed,” said Washington.

B.J. Huizenga, the lead administrator and principal at Kalamazoo Christan High School, is impressed with the promise and generosity of the anonymous donors behind it, but he knows it changes how people look at education.

“We have to do better. We have to do more in a competitive market,” said Huizenga.

In June, Kalamazoo Promise officials added 15 more private institutions from which high school graduates can choose from to continue their higher education.

Huizenga says the “new promise” could be a threat, as several students at Kalamazoo Christian High School are interested in attending Christian colleges. However, enrollment has remained steady the last four years.

Kalamazoo Christian High School is also working to stand apart by keeping up on the latest technology and offering a Spanish immersion program. Sixth through twelfth graders all get iPads.

“It’s just the change of culture and the change of the times and the pressures that those of us in education are feeling to keep up or even maybe stay ahead,” said Huizenga.

At the diocese of Kalamazoo, spokeswoman Vicki Cessna says they’re concentrating on getting and retaining the best teachers and administrators, as well as innovate programs.

“We don’t feel in competition,” said Cessna. “We just feel we have something different to offer and the people discerning and choosing our schools, those reasons that they’re doing so, will remain.”

As officials behind the Kalamazoo Promise look ahead to another year, they’re also taking a closer look at what’s working and what’s not and how they can continue to move this program forward.”

“The power of the scholarship, these are anonymous donors and the whole thought of why would someone invest in me that doesn’t even know me, I think is a very powerful thing,” said Washington. “Students can learn early on that there really is someone that has a vested interest in seeing me do well.”

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