Free college is not enough: The unavoidable limits of the Kalamazoo Promise

Timothy Ready:

The Promise abruptly reversed the district’s long-running enrollment slide, as the previous blog in this series showed. School enrollment has increased by nearly 25 percent and the city’s population once again has begun to grow. College-going rates have increased significantly, as Brad Hershbein will show later this week. However, there has been no major influx of professional families. In fact, the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch increased from 57 percent to 71 percent.

Kalamazoo kids remain poor
More than one-third of children in the district are below the federal poverty line, and 14 percent are in deep poverty—at or below 50 percent of the poverty line. Four in ten live in neighborhoods of highly concentrated poverty (40% poor or more). Income inequality in the Kalamazoo area is above the 80th percentile for US cities—a correlate of low social mobility, according to Raj Chetty, and a predictor of a wide range of social problems in the US and internationally. A recent comparative analysis of social mobility found that Kalamazoo County has lower social mobility for poor children than more than four-fifths of all U.S. counties. While this analysis was based on data that predate the launch of the Promise, there is little evidence —yet — that the Promise has influenced rates of social mobility.