The Power of a Promise: Education and Economic Renewal in Kalamazoo The Power of a Promise: Education and Economic Renewal in Kalamazoo
Michelle Miller-Adams
First Chapter | Table of Contents

257 pp. 2009
$40.00 cloth 978-0-88099-340-1
$18.00 paper 978-0-88099-339-5


The Promise of Kalamazoo blog by Michelle Miller-Adams

What if every high school graduate of a given school district could go to college for free—not just those with good grades or financial need, but all of them? And what if this promise was guaranteed for decades? What kind of transformation might ensue, not just in the lives of the students themselves but in the communities that surround them? Such are the questions raised by the Kalamazoo Promise, an unprecedented experiment in education-based economic renewal that is being watched and emulated by scores of cities and towns around the nation.

When a group of anonymous donors announced in 2005 that they would send every graduate of this midsized public school district to college for free, few within or outside Kalamazoo, Michigan, understood the magnitude of the gesture. Now, in the first comprehensive account of the Kalamazoo Promise, Michelle Miller-Adams charts its initial impact as well as its potential to bring about fundamental economic and social change in a community hurt by job loss, depopulation, and racial segregation.

Drawing on cutting-edge research in the fields of education and economic development, Miller-Adams combines insights from these disciplines with an unparalleled understanding of the Kalamazoo Promise based on extensive interviews and observation from the program's earliest days. Her book tells the fascinating story of why the Kalamazoo Promise came about, how the broader community has responded to its introduction, and its impact—real and anticipated—on Kalamazoo's students, schools, social fabric, and economic future.

At a time when communities across the nation are striving for greater economic competitiveness and expanded educational opportunities for their youth, Miller-Adams' firsthand account reveals both the promise and the challenges inherent in place-based universal scholarship programs and offers guidance to all those working to prepare their communities for success in the twenty-first century.

"Michelle Miller-Adams captures the truly unique story of the Kalamazoo Promise without losing sight of the universal lessons it offers us. 'The Power of a Promise' is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the future of economic and community development in our country." –Governor Jennifer M. Granholm, State of Michigan

"The Kalamazoo Promise is a fascinating experiment with enormous implications for American education. Will the promise of free tuition inspire students to work harder in school? Will it draw more middle class families back into the city's public school system, enriching the learning environment for all? Michelle Miller- Adams provides a superb, thoroughly researched, and highly readable account of this closely watched, groundbreaking venture." –Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow, The Century Foundation, and author of All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice

"Across America, economic developers struggle to overcome the disincentives created by low-performance, poverty-impacted school districts. Michelle Miller-Adams offers an insightful first look at the impact of the Kalamazoo Promise in revitalizing a city's declining job market and aging neighborhoods. If 'housing policy is school policy,' the Kalamazoo Promise tests whether 'school policy is housing policy.' " –David Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico and author of Cities Without Suburbs and Inside Game/Outside Game