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Kalamazoo Kids Get College Ticket

Anonymous donors promise scholarships to all of the Michigan town's high school graduates starting with the class of 2006.

November 12, 2005|From Associated Press

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Worried you won't be able to afford college for your children? Relocating a business and looking to give employees a no-cost perk?

Consider Kalamazoo.

Civic leaders hope to see a transformation in this largely middle-class city of 77,000, thanks to a group of anonymous benefactors that is offering Kalamazoo's high school graduates college scholarships for at least the next 13 years.

"This is truly a way for dreams to come true," School Supt. Janice M. Brown said Friday.

The Kalamazoo Promise program, announced Thursday, could help attract businesses and families to the community, about 130 miles west of Detroit.

Other programs have offered scholarships to a graduating class or even a town. A foundation has given scholarships for decades to high school graduates in Philomath, Ore., a logging town of about 4,000.

But the scope of the Kalamazoo program is remarkable: The district has 10,300 students.

"What a tremendous act of generosity on the part of the donors who made this possible, and what a tremendous opportunity for all these children in Kalamazoo public schools who can now go to college and chase their dreams," Gov. Jennifer Granholm said.

The scholarships will be good at any of Michigan's public universities or community colleges. Starting with the class of 2006, the four-year scholarships will be available to all students who entered the school system in the ninth grade or earlier.

The scholarships will cover 65% to 100% of tuition and fees; those who enrolled in kindergarten would get a free ride.

For students at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, a full scholarship would be worth more than $7,000 this school year.

Brown would not give details on the donors or disclose how much money they put up, but she said the program had been quietly in the works for three or four years. It will run for at least 13 years, and perhaps much longer, district spokesman Alex Lee said.

Floyd Branson, 39, who has lived in Kalamazoo for about 15 years, has a 4-year-old daughter who will start kindergarten next fall. "It's going to be a great help," said Branson, who runs a barbecue stand.

John T. Long III, president and chief executive of the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the scholarships would be a draw for new businesses.

The area's biggest employers are the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and Western Michigan University. The region is trying to attract companies to its new high-tech business park as it shifts away from its past as a paper-manufacturing center.

The scholarship program "says to the world we want to be a community that values education," said university President Judith I. Bailey. "We want to have a strong, educated citizenry because those individuals will become, in fact, our next entrepreneurs, our next physicians, our next volunteer core."

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