WSW: "Promising" Results for College Graduation

Jul 1, 2015

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Credit WMUK

A new report from the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research finds more students are graduating from college because of the Kalamazoo Promise. Economist Tim Bartik says it increases the chances of a student earning a degree by about one-third. 


Bartik and study co-author Brad Hershbein joined WMUK's Gordon Evans to discuss what they found. Marta Lachowska also worked on the report. College graduation rates are usually examined six years after a high school class has graduated. There are now three classes of Kalamazoo students who are six years removed from graduation since the announcement of the Promise. 

The researchers compared students who were eligible for at least a partial scholarship to those who were ineligible under the Promise's conditions (those who started in KPS 10th grade of later). Bartik says they find a significant increase in attendance and graduation from college after the Promise was announced among eligible students.

Hershbein says the improvement in degree completion did not vary much by income. He says the effects were somewhat greater for non-white students. But Hershbein says female students fared better than men. He says while male students were more likely to attend college, there was little improvement in degree completion.

Bartik says the study shows that "Promise-like" programs can be successful. He says based on this report, urban school districts similar to Kalamazoo Public Schools can benefit from a "simple and generous" program like the Kalamazoo Promise.  Herschbein says the Upjohn Institute is analyzing other scholarship programs, which have different parameters from the Kalamazoo Promise. He says as more students graduate from high school under those programs, relevant data will become available. 

"We need to identify interventions that have a high bang for the buck that work. The Kalamazoo Promise is one such intervention."

The director of Western Michigan University's Lewis Walker Institute for Race and Ethnic Relations Tim Ready wrote a post for the Brookings Institution blog Social Mobility Memos. In Free College is not Enough: The Unavoidable Limits of the Kalamazoo Promise, he notes that despite the Promise, many obstacles remain to true social mobility. Bartik says no one program will solve every problem. But he says "The challenge for public policy is not necessarily to solve the problems in one fell swoop. We need to identify interventions that have a high bang for the buck that work. The Kalamazoo Promise is one such intervention." Herschbein, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution also wrote a post for the blog (Note: Ready is scheduled to appear on WestSouthwest soon to discuss his viewpoint). 

Asked about future research on the Promise, Herschbein says following students past graduation and into their work lives is another area to explore. Bartik says movement of families is another interesting area of study. He says some previous research has shown people moving to, or choosing to stay in Kalamazoo because of the Promise. Bartik says the Promise also appears to have a large influence on where students decide to go to college.