Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Anonymous donors offer scholarships to Kalamazoo

13. November 2005 • Murph
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Anonymous donors have offered four year scholarships to in-state public universities to any student who enters Kalamazoo Public Schools in the ninth grade or earlier, effective for at least the next 13 years. From the Detroit News:

The scope of the Kalamazoo program, however, is remarkable: The district has 10,300 students, a number that could grow with Thursday’s announcement of the scholarships.
. . .
The scholarships will be good at any of Michigan’s public universities or community colleges. Starting with the class of 2006, the four-year scholarships will be available to all students who entered the school system in the ninth grade or earlier.
The scholarships will cover between 65 percent and 100 percent of tuition and fees; those who enrolled in kindergarten would get a free ride.

Some in Kalamazoo talk about the fund as helpful for businesses seeking to attract families to Kalamazoo; native Kalamazooer Dale confirms that this could also help pull families back into the city and into the public schools – often seen as key to helping America’s urban cores.



  1. Here’s a KPS district map. The district bleeds west into Oshtemo Township, (basically west of 131) which is not particularly developed, even along I-94. It is a danger that this program might promote sprawl in the township 5+ years out, but these scholarships are going to the right people—the city will really benefit from the help.
       —Dale    Nov. 13 '05 - 11:36AM    #
  2. I also write as a native Kalamazooan (in spirit; I can pretend, but I went to Portage schools due south).

    The implications of this program to shape housing markets in the school district are profound. While I do expect an increased push to develop new housing in the suburban/rural parts of the district, the incentive to remain or relocate is strong districtwide. Over the coming years I would expect heightened demand for both existing housing and new construction across the board. The impact may well be greatest upon the city’s lower-income areas, particularly on the north, east, and near south sides.

    You can imagine how enthusiastically this has been received by the community. Reading stories from the Kalamazoo Gazette on MLive was quite moving, and it feels like an incredible shift in attitude has taken place across a wide spectrum of the population, literally overnight. I’m still somewhat in disbelief myself but have never felt so optimistic about the future of my hometown.

    Two longer-term concerns. One, currently housing in the district is ridiculously affordable (by Ann Arbor area standards). Perfectly serviceable starter or young family homes are amply available in the $60-100k price range; for $100-150k, one can buy into almost any part of town, and get a lot of house for the money. Tip to new college grads: act now before the expected spurt in property values makes this no longer the case! Affordability risks becoming a concern. Second, I’ve long felt that K’zoo and Ann Arbor had much in common. So I can imagine, in the year 2030, the waging of interminable wars over the question of why, believe it or not, new buildings taller than four stories might actually be necessary somewhere. Horrors!

    (In that case, perhaps Larry Bell of Kalamazoo Brewing Co. will lead the charge… welcome to the Twilight Zone.)
       —Jeff Dean    Nov. 13 '05 - 12:32PM    #
  3. The concern I might see here is that it would spur gentrification. The well-off could take this as basically a $60,000 discount on something they would have paid for anyways – sending their kids to UM – and will shift that money into housing purchases. The people who need this most will have the tuition come as a bonus, rather than as a replacement of personal spending, and so won’t have the opportunity to shift that cash into other uses.

    To the extent that this pulls resources and attention into the KPS and enables everyone to receive a better education, it’s a very very good thing. If it ends up displacing people by driving up home prices and rents, it might have a downside.

    Maybe Dale and Jeff can tell me to what extent displacement can be expected.
       —Murph.    Nov. 13 '05 - 12:51PM    #
  4. Or maybe Leopold Bros. will locate their zero-waste brewery there?

    It’s crazy what’s possible when you’ve got a billionaire and several multi-multi-millionaires living in your city. This program will produce big challenges in the next decade, but I’m sure everyone in Kalamazoo would take them over the alternative.
       —Dale    Nov. 13 '05 - 12:52PM    #
  5. I wouldn’t expect much displacement of low income people or the working class, per se. There are a couple areas of the city that would be attractive to the upper middle class—the Stuart neighborhood, north of K-College and WMU, an area of some great preservation and restoration work, and a few pockets in the Vine and Westnedge Hill neighborhoods. I could see the 250-300k set pushing out families/households of 150k in these areas, and into the squarely middle class and working class areas of the city, which might reverberate.

    The only area I see of direct displacement might come on the North Side—the Stuart neighborhood stops at North St. and literally right across the street the housing stock deteriorates and street life changes from white to black, so it would be low-hanging fruit for gentrifiers.

    I haven’t been able to find a land use map for Oshtemo twp, which would be a much more likely area for more suburban-oriented families. There have been several developments in the last 5 or so years right over the city line on the east edge of Oshtemo (including several aimed at WMU students), but I don’t know if the twp is looking to cash in by selling their soul to suburban developers.

    Hey, Jeff—where’d you live in Portage, etc.? I grew up in Comstock Twp and went to Gull Lake and KAMSC, then WMU.

    I’m going to take a little break so other posters can catch up.
       —Dale    Nov. 13 '05 - 01:32PM    #
  6. OK, I lied. Here is an Oshtemo Twp. zoning map. Here’s future land use.

    As you can see, it might not be total carnage in the township. However, faced with a wad of development dollars, that zoning could go all orange unless township officials take a stand to block development.
       —Dale    Nov. 13 '05 - 04:07PM    #
  7. I found this event to be exciting… finally, someone in Michigan is putting their money where their heart is, and local officials have accepted the donation in the spirit in which it was intended.

    I think back a couple of years ago to Bob Thompson’s offer of $200 million plus to Detroit to develop charter schools, and the city’s declining of the offer in spite of generally failing schools.

    How can we create this sort of opportunity in our area? Could this spur economic development? movement toward the denser city core? retention of our “creative class”? etc.?
       —AlanB    Nov. 13 '05 - 04:14PM    #
  8. Dale, interesting coincidence: I too went through KAMSC, coming from Portage Central HS and living near Long Lake in Pavilion Twp.

    Vine is definitely ripe for gentrification. I thought so even before announcement of the Promise, and I believe that to a degree, the process has begun already. Housing stock is eclectic and the entire West Vine Street neighborhood has long struck me as being the part of K’zoo that “feels” most like Ann Arbor. If there is a boom, housing values will probably only be restrained by the area’s image as a WMU student ghetto. The setting seems ripe for heightened tensions between renters and homeowners. And I also agree about Stuart and Westnedge Hill attracting their share of new money (though much of the Hill is already toward the higher-end of city housing stock).

    There are several central city neighborhoods that local development organizations have targeted for revitalization within the past couple of years; I’m thinking particularly West Douglas (NW side) and Washington Square and Edison (near south side). These are the $60-100k areas I mentioned earlier, and I see them as the most likely candidates for crowding out of lower-income households, especially if/as broader trends toward in-town living emerge. Housing is more affordable still in the Northside and Eastside areas, but outsiders still tend to perceive those areas as highly marginal, to put it delicately.

    This is all my speculation, of course. More immediately, I see only good things on the horizon. I doubt many people who have recently moved out to Portage, Vicksburg, or Mattawan (think Saline, Ypsi Twp., Dexter) are going to move back just for free tuition years down the road. People who prefer suburban living probably will rush to Oshtemo. But the biggest beneficiaries in my mind stand to be inner-city families. I hope it’s not simply wishful thinking on my part.
       —Jeff Dean    Nov. 13 '05 - 06:55PM    #
  9. How can we create this sort of opportunity in our area? Could this spur economic development? movement toward the denser city core? retention of our ‘creative class’? etc.?

    My guess? This happened because Kalamazoo is one of the few cities left that has a paternalistic local company that’s been booming and generating large sums of money. The donors are anonymous, but I’d be very surprised if a lot of the money wasn’t coming from the Stryker fortune. I don’t see that Ann Arbor has anything comparable—there’s plenty of money around here, but no huge local company with philanthropically-minded local heirs.

    Even so, a program like this wouldn’t necessarily do anything for a denser city core. The Ann Arbor district includes huge swaths of sprawl-land.

    Boy, though, the potential for housing market distortions in Kalamazoo is absolutely HUGE. If you have 2+ kids, the value of the tuition could meet or exceed the purchase price of your house. Well, I have relatives with both low and high end homes in the city. It’ll be interesting to hear what they have to say.
       —mw    Nov. 14 '05 - 12:51PM    #
  10. I too grew up in Kalamazoo (Loy Norrix H.S. class of ‘99) and this was the best news I had heard in a long time! I am very optomistic that this will mean great things for K-zoo.

    I can’t help but wonder if what a plan like this could mean for a city like Detroit. There are thousands of kids leaving Detroit Public Schools every year, and this only further speeds along the overall system’s decline. I honestly don’t think Detroit is going to make the serious recovery that is necessary for the health of this region and the whole state, unless there are young people, and young families moving into the city (as opposed to moving out). For this to happen people need to feel like there is something for their kids in the public school system.

    Free tuition to all graduates of DPS, would be something that would make any family think twice about leaving Detroit, and I dare say it would make a lot of other people in the metro area take a long and serious look at moving to the city, people that would have never dreamed of such a thing before.

    This is just an idea of what could happen:

    Free tuition=more students=more money for schools=higher quality public education=even more people moving to Detroit

    Free tuition=higher propoerty values=more money for schools=higher quality public education=even more people moving to Detroit

    If this only stopped the depopulation of the city, I think it would be well worth it.

    I recall that during the mayoral primary race, Sharon McPhail had a proposal to provide college tuition to all DPS grads as part of campaign platform. It had something to do with revenues from the casinos (Imagine that, the casinos actually doing something good for the community!). I don’t know the details. if anyone is familiar with it knows if it would be realisitic (financially and politcally) I’d like to know.

    Thanks!
       —Aaron    Nov. 14 '05 - 08:03PM    #
  11. I think that, last I heard, the city taxes from the casinos weren’t even paying for the basic services they consumed (police, etc). So definitely not enough to provide a fund for an under-18 population of 300,000 to be guaranteed a college education.
       —Murph.    Nov. 14 '05 - 09:19PM    #
  12. Higher property values in a community doesn’t usually translate into more money for schools. Most of the school taxes paid go to Lansing where it’s divvied up among ALL school districts in the state. Even local districts that have hold-harmless don’t get more money as property values go up. The more money you raise locally, the less the state gives you. In theory, it will trickle back down to the local community but it’s never as much as what you would have gotten if the money had never left the district.
       —John Q.    Nov. 14 '05 - 10:21PM    #
  13. The benefactors are officially anonymous, but it’s almost inconceivable that Stryker wealth isn’t behind this to a substantial degree. Jon Stryker in particular has a long track record of community philanthropy; see, for example, the Arcus Foundation, which supports LGBT causes, and recently completed a fantastic renovation of a former downtown rail depot.

    Apart from whatever effects the Promise has on local housing markets, I have hopes that it will dramatically change the fortunes of an often overlooked school district that’s had some hard times lately. Best case scenario: a positive feedback loop in which enrollment climbs, leading to a boost in state per-pupil funding, enabling KPS to improve facilities and expand programs, attracting still more students. This, I think, more than the college tuition alone, is what will eventually draw more families back to the city.
       —Jeff Dean    Nov. 14 '05 - 10:22PM    #
  14. Kalamazoo was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition today.


       —Dale    Nov. 30 '06 - 05:16AM    #