Upjohn Institute Researcher Michelle Miller-Adams spends a lot of her time examining how the Kalamazoo Promise is working and how other communities are trying to develop their own programs.
Miller-Adams, who is also a Political Science Professor at Grand Valley State University, says President Obama's proposal for free community college has many similarities to the program to provide free tuition and fees to graduates from the Kalamazoo school district.
The financial structure of scholarship programs is important. Miller-Adams says programs like the Kalamazoo Promise are made on a "first dollar" basis. That means that lower-income students are still eligible for pell grants that can help pay for a computer or living costs.
Some critics have questioned whether programs should help everyone or if more money should be directed toward low-income students. But Miller-Adams says a "universal program" like the Kalamazoo Promise gets broader political support and "buy in" from the across the political spectrum.
Miller-Adams say the President's proposal highlights the debate over the benefit of education. She says throughout U.S. history as more education has become required, more public funding has been provided. Miller-Adams says as an example when high school became the bare minimum of education needed to make a living, it became publicly funded and compulsory.
In the extended version of the interview, Miller-Adams discusses the latest data showing that students using the Kalamazoo Promise are more likely to complete at least their first year of college. She also talks about why the program has been a success so far, and the challenges that are likely ahead.