The Promise of the Private College

Jun 10, 2014

Kalamazoo College president Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran speaks at a Kalamazoo Promise press conference June 10.
Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

The Kalamazoo Promise made a big announcement yesterday.

For nine years the program has paid college tuition for Kalamazoo Public School graduates – if they went to a public college or university in Michigan.

But starting with the Class of 2015, the Promise will add 15 private schools in the state to the lineup. The expansion is the product of a partnership between the Promise and the Michigan Colleges Alliance.

The two groups say the change offers students more than just fifteen new names to choose from.

Kalamazoo Promise Trustee Janice Brown got to break the news about the plan. At a press conference Tuesday at Kalamazoo College’s field house, she invoked her own family’s experience with higher education.

Her four children chose public and private colleges. And other educational leaders in the room had kids who could do that too.

“If we can make those choices, why can’t every student, every Promise scholar, every child that is born into this earth have the same advantage that my children and Troy’s children and Bob’s children and Bob’s children, and everybody else’s children that are advantaged have?” she asked.

In what Brown called a “heck of a good marriage,” the Kalamazoo Promise and the MCA will cover tuition and fees for KPS students accepted at the MCA’s fifteen member schools. That includes K-College and Albion as well as Hope and Calvin colleges and Andrews University.

The Promise will pay based on the average cost of attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor’s College of Literature, Science and Arts. The MCA will make up the difference.

Like the rest of the Promise – funded from the start by still-anonymous private donors – it’s meant to be perpetual.

“There’s not a shift in our vision, there’s not a shift in our philosophy or mission,” Brown says.

Instead, the Promise’s directors saw a way to expand students’ choices.

“We had excluded the privates because we wanted people to understand how strongly we support public institutions. So, after proving that for the last nine years we kind of feel like, okay, now we can let some other partners in,” she adds.

“Many people think of private colleges as attracting students from families that are very well to do; both parents, you know, did very, very well and can afford to send their kids to a private school, but that’s really not what’s going on,” says Adrian College President Jeffrey Docking.

He says the schools in the MCA already serve many students who don’t come from privileged families.

“When you think of – four out of every ten students at Adrian come from families where the parents did not get a college degree, you realize that we have a great diversity within our schools,” he says.

Docking says a higher sticker price means many small private colleges struggle to counter the perception that they’re only for the children of the wealthy.

Officially, the cost of attending Adrian is about 40,000 dollars a year. Docking says most students pay a little more than half of that. But many do take on debt – and he says that’s a problem.

“We don’t want students getting out with essentially a mortgage at 22, 23 years old. These are very traditional students, they don’t have other sources of income except the job that they’ll get upon graduation and so we look at this as a big area of concern and we’re glad the Promise is giving kids this opportunity,” he says.

K-College President Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran says its graduates average about 26,000 dollars in debt after four years on campus. That’s not more on average than students carry away from the University of Michigan, she says.

With “limited resources,” Wilson-Oyelaran says meeting the Promise partway, as K-College has pledged to do, goes beyond their student aid programs.

“It is going to be significantly more – I would say 13 or 14 percent more than we would offer the average student,” she says.

“Aid packages range, there’s really no average, but it will be more.”

But she adds the potential benefit for KPS students is great.

“Individuals thrive in very different environments. And so now a student has an opportunity to consider a large and a small institution right here in Kalamazoo, (and) has an opportunity to think about going anywhere in the state.”

Currently Kalamazoo College enrolls about ten students from Kalamazoo’s two public high schools each year. About six of those come in through the Heyl Scholars program. Oyelaran says if everything stays as it is, K-College expects to get four or five students funded by the Promise each year.

“What we don’t know is whether this will change – this opportunity will change the number of students who apply and who are able to be accepted,” she says.

Adrian College’s Jeffrey Docking says in a first year class of about 500 students, his school expects to see about half a dozen Promise students next year.