...an unusual, anonymously funded plan. Beginning this June, college tuition will be free for any student who enters the Kalamazoo school system by the ninth grade -- regardless of income or need. The program, unveiled in November by the city's superintendent of schools and underwritten by a group of local philanthropists, is to run for at least 13 years.
With its commitment to the Promise, Kalamazoo is upsetting the traditional economic-development model. In the past, blighted cities across the nation signed onto various types of revitalization plans. Mainly, they focused on physical improvements -- including new public spaces, office parks and other civic amenities -- in hopes of spurring economic and social progress.
The Promise is different. By making education the cornerstone of the city's turnaround plan, Kalamazoo is hoping that other positive changes will follow.Mr. DeHaan, the developer, says the Promise already has helped fuel housing demand...Southwest Michigan First, a regional development agency, says the number of inquiries from small businesses has recently quadrupled to between 20 to 25 calls a week.
...The donors think the Promise "is the way to revitalize their city," says Dr. Brown, who is one of the few people in the city who knows their identities. They believe that "equal access to higher education for all creates a powerful incentive that will bring people and employers back to Kalamazoo."