Kalamazoo Promise and Pensacola Promise

Close up of a graduation cap and a certificate with a ribbon
In 2008, I interviewed on my radio show, “IN Your Head,” leaders from Kalamazoo, Michigan about an economic development initiative that provided all its high school graduates with college scholarships. That initiative, Kalamazoo Promise, eventually become the inspiration for the Studers’ “Pensacola Promise” scholarship program for Pensacola high school graduates to attended UWF or PJC.

Today NPR had a segment on Kalamazoo, “How One Michigan City Is Sending Kids To College Tuition-Free.” The program began in 2005 when a group of anonymous donors pledged enough money to pay the tuition for graduates of its district’s public high schools to attend any of Michigan’s public universities or community colleges. As of today, Kalamazoo Promise has spent about $50 million assisting more than 3,000 students from the city attend college.

In 2009, newly-elected Councilwoman Maren DeWeese took on the idea for a Pensacola Promise, “What Can We Promise Our Kids.” She attended a national conference and got her fellow council members to allow her to chair a task force on it.

A year later, DeWeese brought forth her Pensacola Promise plan which called for an initial $250,000 from the city in its first year, with up to a $400,000 funding contribution after that — depending upon private contributions. She suggested the city’s money would come from the City’s Energy Services of Pensacola, not tax revenues. The plan failed to win council approval.

In 2012, Rishy and Quint Studer donated $1 million in scholarship money to be given to future UWF and Pensacola State College students who are Pensacola residents. In his speech announcing Pensacola Pledge Scholars program, Studer said that he was inspired by the Kalamazoo program. The couple set up a similar scholarship for their former hometown, Janesville, Wisc.

Since then, little has been done by UWF or PSC to expand the program.

The Greater Pensacola Chamber did have a consultant develop a economic development strategy that included an expansion of the college scholarship program to include all Escambia County residents for workforce development.

The plan calls for the creation of the $15-25 million Greater Pensacola Targeted Employment Education Endowment to provide need-based gap financing scholarships/loans for local students to attend George Stone, Locklin Tech, Pensacola State College, or the University of West Florida in targeted fields of very high local employment need.

The funding for this program is expected to come from BP RESTORE dollars.