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Kalamazoo Promise boosts student aspirations

July 8, 2009

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University researchers have released new findings from a study on the Kalamazoo Promise's impact and say the postsecondary education funding initiative is boosting student aspirations and reshaping their self-image.

The new working paper, titled "The Impact of the Kalamazoo Promise on Student Attitudes, Goals and Aspirations," has just been released. It takes a closer look at the importance of student aspirations and whether the Promise is having an impact, while probing possible differences along gender, racial and socio-economic lines.

Full report
Evaluation of the Kalamazoo Promise

Student aspirations determine success

"Student aspirations are an important determinant of success in high school and postsecondary education," says Dr. Gary Miron, a WMU professor of educational leadership, research and technology, who was part of a three-person team that prepared a new paper on its evaluation findings regarding the impact of the Promise.

"The research literature explains why aspirations may be impervious to reform efforts that only improve instruction, but do not unlock the door to students' internalized goals and the perception of self."

Study results

Study results show the Promise is unlocking that door, says Miron, who collaborated in preparing the most recent paper with Drs. Jeffrey Jones and Allison Kelaher Young, assistant and professor, respectively, of teaching, learning and educational studies.

Announced in November 2005 by anonymous private donors, the Kalamazoo Promise pays up to 100 percent of college tuition and fees for students who graduate from Kalamazoo Public Schools and attend any Michigan public institution of higher education.

Among findings from a student survey, the study shows:

  • Females are more likely than males to report higher levels of aspiration
  • No significant statistical difference in aspiration levels according to race or ethnic background
  • Students who do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and those with higher grade point averages have higher aspirations
  • There is a positive relationship between the level of awareness about the Promise and student aspirations
  • Students reported increased aspirations from 2007 to 2008

Student aspirations based on interviews with educators and with 42 middle and high school students revealed that 58 percent of students believed their attitudes about schoolwork had improved, while 32 percent believed there was no change. Nearly 85 percent of students also thought there was positive change in their peers' motivation to succeed in school. Responses to open-ended questions in the survey also showed that students are seeing improvement in other students' attitudes, goals and aspirations as a result of the Promise.

Among KPS employees, 66 percent believed students' attitudes about schoolwork had improved since the Promise's introduction, while 27 percent reported no change. Of the 41 KPS employees interviewed, a vast majority noted that the Promise has had a positive effect on students. They reported increased college-prep conversations and willingness among students to try postsecondary education. Many of the educators also reported psychological changes in students, including increased confidence, self-esteem and sense of hope. Educators say teachers are using the Promise as a long-range incentive in the classroom.

It was commonly reported among all groups that the Promise has changed the discourse within the schools, within families and across the community. That discourse reflects the shift in focus from preparing the traditionally college-bound students to the preparation of all students for postsecondary education. A concern expressed by some is the need to continue fighting the perception that the Promise is "not for everybody." Doubt or misinformation was most prevalent among African American students and students coming from more disadvantaged households. Combating the perception that the Promise "is not for me" was identified as an important challenge for the district and the community.

The study concludes that the Promise "has opened up an opportunity--indeed it has thrown open a large, and previously impenetrable door."

Learn more
Evaluation of the Kalamazoo Promise

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

WMU News
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