WSW: How Generous And Accessible Is A College Scholarship Program?

Jan 18, 2018

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Credit WMUK

Michelle Miller-Adams says she and her colleagues at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research launched The Promise Database to show how the design of scholarship programs have different impacts.


Miller-Adams, who is a Research Fellow at the Upjohn Institute and a Political Science Professor at Grand Valley State University, says says she had been sorting programs by various features for years. Miller-Adams says two indicators the Promise Database examines are “saturation” and “intensity.” Miller-Adams describes “saturation” as how many students are likely to receive a scholarship. The Kalamazoo Promise has high “saturation” since every student who graduates and attends the district at least through high school gets some aid to pay for college. She says “intensity” is “how big a carrot,” or how generous the program is for students.

Miller-Adams says making those comparisons can help with the design of future scholarship programs. She says families who are relocating can also examine the database to decide where they want to move.

Following the announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise in 2005, other communities began examining whether or not they could begin their own programs. Some states have started paying for two years of community college. Miller-Adams says the term “free college” is a misnomer. She says most programs cover tuition, but there are other costs such as books and living expenses for students. Colleges and universities still have to pay professors, and have other costs as well.

Former President Barack Obama said in his 2015 State of the Union address that community college should be “free and universal” nationwide. While some states have moved in that direction, Miller-Adams says the Politics of publicly funded college at the federal level changed when Donald Trump was elected President in 2016. She says the innovation is now happening in states and local communities

The Upjohn Institute database examines scholarship programs across the country, but Miller-Adams says very few are as generous as the Kalamazoo Promise. Because of the way it is designed, she says the Kalamazoo Promise is a “laboratory to really look at what it means if you go into this business in a big way.”