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Kalamazoo Promise Keeps on Giving
Linda Mah
/ Categories: Communications

Kalamazoo Promise Keeps on Giving

More Than 5,200 Students Have Used the Promise

The Kalamazoo Promise has spent about $108 million on scholarships for more than 5,200 Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates — and expects to spend another $16 million this year.

The Kalamazoo Promise is a scholarship program that provides Kalamazoo Public Schools resident graduates with funds to pay for post-secondary education tuition and fees. The scholarship covers up to 100 percent of tuition and fees at most Michigan colleges and universities, depending on a student’s length of continuous residency and attendance in the KPS system.

The Promise continues to grow both in terms of the awards given, its organizational structure, and its goals, said Bob Jorth, executive director of the Kalamazoo Promise.

Jorth sat down recently with the Excelsior to talk about the latest news about the Promise.

Excelsior: How much has the Promise provided in terms of scholarships?

Jorth: More than 5,200 students have used the Kalamazoo Promise, which has spent about $108 million. This year, the Promise projects spending another $16 million on scholarships.

Excelsior: What do the statistics look like in terms of graduates using the Promise?

Jorth: The start rate (for college) in the state of Michigan is about 80 percent. Our start rate is close to 95 percent. Our start rate is off the charts really. Our completion rates are at about 42 percent for six years, which is pretty close to the national average, but double for like school districts, which are urban, high poverty and high numbers of minorities. What we’re looking at is a goal of a 60 percent graduation rate within 10 years of high school graduation — because that’s what we’re giving them in terms of a timeline.

Excelsior: How do you get there?

Jorth: There are a lot of things we need to do. One of our biggest subgroups is students who start college and who haven’t finished anything. Depending when you count and how you count there’s somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 of those students. So, if we can reduce that population, we can increase the completion rate. We think the best opportunity to increase that rate isn’t so much with bachelor degrees, although we can definitely improve that. It’s the other credentials that are being underutilized. We don’t have a lot of students who get certificates, and certificates can lead to great jobs such as in welding, medical technology, and wind energy.

We’ve added three positions to help with completion. Angelita Aguilar is the director of credential completion. Sarah Klerk is the director of business collaborations. Cyekeia Lee is the director of community collaboration; she’s really looking at the whole birth to 12 continuum. We’re going to be adding Promise Pathway Coaches, who will work primarily with high school students to get them ready to access the Promise and work with students into the first year of college to help them make that transition.

Excelsior: What barriers do students face in completing college?

Jorth: The research nationally, and it’s supported with our own results, is that students who wait more than a year to start college are not very successful with completing. We know it’s important to get them engaged sooner. There are students that realistically aren’t ready to start. We need to deal with that in a more effective way.

Excelsior: What are some new ways to support those students?

Jorth: Four or five years ago, the Promise agreed to pay an additional fee at KVCC for every student that is there, so they could add specific personnel to support Promise students. There are nearly two full-time staff at KVCC to assist students. They developed a similar position at Western Michigan University two years ago. We require all students that attend those two schools to attend an initial meeting before we start the award process for them. What we’re trying to do is concentrate on students who are having academic problems after the first year. KVCC is launching KVAAP, the Kalamazoo Valley Accelerated Associate Program. It’s based on a model out of New York that’s almost doubled the completion rate for community college students. It involves support services, transportation, and rewards for signing up for support sessions. Students sign a contract with the goal of completing an associate’s degree within three years.

Excelsior: What’s next for the Promise?

Jorth: The donors are very happy with their investment. That’s our understanding. So, they just announced the new building that we’re moving into. They’ve also agreed to this increase in staff to help us get a little more engaged and a little more hands-on. They’re a little more willing to invest more money to support students to improve the results. That’s actually a compliment that we’re glad to take.

Excelsior: Is there anything else you’d like families to know?

Jorth: There are only two forms to sign to receive the Promise. We try to get the applications in, in the fall, and we started distributing them at high school registration. The second form can’t be submitted until you’ve made a decision about where you’re going to attend, have applied, and been accepted. It is a legal release that allows us to talk to the college about the student. If people have questions, they should call our office at (269) 337-0037.


  Bob Jorth poses for a picture with students at Lincoln International Studies School on its 2017 Promise Signing Day.  






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