Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The Kalamazoo Promise and Promise-type Programs: The Role of Universality


Political Science


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



The Kalamazoo Promise is an innovative college-scholarship program available to every graduate of the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Public Schools. It is also the centerpiece of an economic development strategy to revitalize an urban community that has lost jobs and population over the past several decades. The unique structure of the Kalamazoo Promise has captured the attention of community leaders throughout the nation, giving rise to more than 30 new Promise programs. All of these keep the place-based approach of the Kalamazoo Promise; however, only fewer than half have preserved the critical feature of universality, opting instead to introduce GPA or other requirements. This paper examines the Promise model as a mechanism for reducing inequality in high-poverty, urban public school districts. I find that the Kalamazoo Promise and programs modeled on it hold great potential in this regard, although not necessarily in expected ways. While full college scholarships in and of themselves open a path to higher education, the barriers to success remain high for economically disadvantaged and lower-achieving students. The more powerful influence of such programs on inequality comes from their role as a catalyst for change in the culture of the school district and for the alignment of the resources of a community around the broader goals of the program. However, this catalytic impact depends on the universal nature of the program a point that has been missed by many communities that are emulating the Kalamazoo Promise while altering one of its defining features.

Conference Name

33rd Annual Fall Research Conference

Conference Location

Washington, DC

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