Supplementing College Tuition Improves Grades of African American Students

Ashley Inman:, 707-332-1184, Education Next Communications Office
Marta Lachowska:, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research
Timothy J. Bartik:, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research


Supplementing College Tuition Improves Grades of African American Students

Study finds promise of non-merit-based academic college scholarship significantly decreases school-wide suspensions in urban school district.

As federal, state, and local governments look to increase college enrollment and graduation among minorities and low-income students, the midsized urban school district of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has found a hopeful model. Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) graduates are now eligible for as much as 100 percent scholarships to attend any public college or university in Michigan, as a result of a program announced in 2005 called the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship (the Promise).

Funded by anonymous donors, the scholarship is awarded to graduates based solely on the number of years they attended KPS, with students enrolled by 9th grade receiving at least 65 percent support, and supports them for four years on the condition the students maintain a 2.0 college GPA.  Now, in “The Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship,” published in Education Next, two economists study the effectiveness of the Promise by comparing the changes in achievement and behavior of KPS students before and after they became aware of the scholarship.

Authors Timothy Bartik and Marta Lachowska analyze administrative data on students in 9th through 12th grades from school years 2003-04 to 2007-08.  This period includes two years before the scholarship, the year the scholarship was announced, and two school years after the announcement. Looking at demographic characteristics, credits completed, high school GPAs, and disciplinary incidents, the researchers found clear evidence that the Promise reduced behavior problems for all students, and had a dramatic positive effect on the GPAs of African Americans.

By the third year after its announcement, the Promise:

• Increased the chances that a student earned any high school credits by 9 percentage points.
• Decreased the average number of days students spent in suspension by 1.8 days overall, and by 3 for African American students.
• Increased the GPAs of African American students by 0.7 grade points, or more than two-thirds of a letter grade.

The scholarship is available to all students who have attended KPS since at least 9th grade. Graduating students enrolled in KPS since Kindergarten are given a scholarship amounting to 100 percent of all tuition costs and mandatory fees for up to four years. The amount awarded drops by 5 percent as the number of years of continuous enrollment in KPS declines. Those who enrolled in the 9th grade  are eligible to receive scholarship aid covering 65 percent of their costs. Students need to gain admission to a Michigan public college, take at least 12 credits, and maintain a 2.0 GPA while in college to receive Promise benefits. The total value of the scholarship for a typical student over four years ranges from about $18,000 with the 65 percent benefit to about $27,000 at the 100 percent benefit.

Because the Promise had a clearer effect on behavior than on grades for KPS students overall, the authors conclude that “policies focused on making higher education more affordable may be usefully supplemented by helping students better understand how their behavior affects their future.”

The Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship” will appear in the Spring 2014 issue of Education Next and is now available at


About the Authors

Timothy J. Bartik is senior economist and Marta Lachowska is economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. Authors are available for interviews.


About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. For more information about Education Next, please visit:

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