1: Collective efforts to boost educational attainment – the Kalamazoo Promise and its partners

In 2005, at a time when Kalamazoo was still being affected by deindustrialisation and suburbanisation, a group of local anonymous donors pledged to provide full college scholarships to every graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools.111 While other US cities have similar programmes, Kalamazoo is unique in the size (funding is set up to continue in perpetuity) and the unrestricted nature of the Promise. However, there are lessons to be learnt in terms of how partners collaborate to maximise the potential impact of the initiative.

Many describe it as an economic development programme rather than simply a scholarship programme, with the Promise acting as a strong incentive for families and businesses to locate in the city. Yet the scholarship alone was deemed insufficient to achieve the economic, social and cultural transformation envisaged by local partners: “we expected it to positively affect dropout rates but the Promise does not make a great deal of difference if you’re going to dropout. You need to support young people to overcome wider barriers. Money is only half the answer; you need alignment with other actors”.112

In response, a group of organisations started working collaboratively to ensure that every student is ‘college-ready’, engage the private sector, communicate the wider regional impact and strengthen community alignment.

  • The Kalamazoo Promise project team builds community relationships and works with several organisations in the city to ensure young people are ready for ‘school, college, work and careers’. The team are currently working with partners to identify key education transition points and predictors of school dropout.
  • The Learning Network for Greater Kalamazoo aims to build connections in the community and make collective efforts to improve educational attainment more effective and efficient. The Network tracks the performance of different interventions, helps replicate best practice from elsewhere, sponsors the events that bring people together and engages regularly with partners. Since 2011, the Network has helped bring together more than 100 organisations to support successful educational outcomes.
  • The Upjohn Institute is an independent research institute, which acts as a fiscal agent, intermediary and think tank for Kalamazoo. The Institute leads the Learning Network’s data team developing and maintaining a community scorecard, implementing a data platform that collects and eventually integrates community-based out-of-school-time data with school-based and adult learning data, and providing ongoing research support.
  • Kalamazoo Communities in Schools works with Kalamazoo Public Schools System to determine school and student needs, and establishes relationships with local agencies and businesses, parent and volunteer organisations to meet these needs. The support has led to improved attendance and behaviour in schools, and improvements in reading and maths.

The Promise has acted as a catalyst and changed the incentives for a broad range of actors. Partners have worked together to maximise the impact of the investment to improve educational and economic outcomes in the city. As a result, there has been a sharp increase in mentoring and tutoring, better coordination among youth-serving organisations and new programmes established to support students post-secondary. The Promise has since seen the reversal of long-term enrolment decline, particularly among more disadvantaged groups.


  • 111 Miller-Adams, M. (2009) The Power of a Promise: Education and Economic Renewal in Kalamazoo, The W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. The scholarship is universally accessible and the allocation of funds is based on location (enrolled and resided within the KPS district for at least four years) rather than needs or merit. The scholarship will cover between 65 and 100 per cent of tuition fees based on how long a graduate has been a pupil within the district. The scholarships can be used to attend any of the 38 community colleges or universities in Michigan, and can be accessed at any times within ten years of graduating.
  • 112 Interview