Send all of our kids to college and pay for it, too

Would a $4,200 a year scholarship for college–just for finishing high school–make a difference to you? To the community?

People in Kalamazoo, Michigan have asked themselves these very questions and their answer is, “Let’s find out.”

Starting in 2006 every graduate from their two high schools and three alternative schools has been eligible for a four-year college scholarship which they can use to attend any state school or community college. To get the whole amount you have to start in their schools in kindergarden but even if you start as a freshman in high school you still get sixty-five percent.

How’s that for a deal? The money comes from the Kalamazoo Promise, an organization funded by secret donors in the community.

It all sounds too good to be true, a fantasy for parents, students, and cash-strapped school districts alike. But it’s no urban legend–the fund is profiled the the New York Times.

There’s even a WikiPedia entry, laying out the details of the program in more detail.

If you read the New York Times article I know what you are thinking right now. You thinking that Kalamzoo isn’t an especially rich city. It’s got a big minority population. If they can do this…

The good people at the New York Times wondered as well. What would a similar program, paying out $5,000 per student per year, cost to cover New York City’s 52,000 graduates? (Side note: Fifty-two thousand graduates a year–think about that for a second–Wow.) They crunch the numbers and come up with a figure required to fund an endowment that would pay out enough money each year to cover the tab. Endowment = $25 billion.

That’s real money. That’s huge. But, of course, New York is huge. Think of those fifty-two thousand students. Whereas Cabrillo Unified has only about two hundred and fifty graduates a year.

What size of an endowment would we need? Taking the New York Times’ numbers are scaling them down (that is to say, saving me the actual math part) our endowment would need to be about $120 million.

That’s also a huge number, at least in relation to our community’s size. But think. This assumes that one hundred percent of graduates would go to college. It assumes all kids start in kindergarden and receive the full scholarship award. It assumes that all would go to a qualifying state school or community college–no Stanford or Harvard-bound students need apply. I would not be surprised if in practice only half of the graduates ended up receiving money. That’s a $60 million dollar endowment.

And due to the design of the program, it’s money well spent. Those who still don’t attend college, even after a $5,000 a year offer, have obstacles in their life that will not be easily solved, or maybe they simply choose not to go. Some students will receive only a partial scholarship. For those destined for the Stanfords and the Harvards of the world, the money won’t change their trajectory either way. But for the other kids it may very well give them a chance to go, or to go to a more expensive school than they otherwise could afford.

That would certainly seem to have the potential to make a dramatic difference to the students and a difference to the community as well.

Maybe half of that $60 million could come from a bond measure and half from our own secret group of wealthy citizens? The Coastside Promise?

Are you interested?

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