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WMU outlines its Kalamazoo Promise offer

Dec. 1, 2005

KALAMAZOO--An offer by Western Michigan University to guarantee room and board for Kalamazoo students who attend WMU through the Kalamazoo Promise program will be funded through unrestricted private gifts and application of federal need-based aid.

The offer, which was first announced with partial detail Nov. 18 in response to press questions, is for the graduating class of 2006 and is good for four years of living in campus residence halls. At the end of the first year of the program, the University will evaluate the room and board offer to determine its impact and its place in the array of WMU financial aid programs offered.

The Kalamazoo Promise, announced Nov. 10, is an initiative funded by anonymous private donors that will cover up to 100 percent of college tuition and fees for students who graduate from the Kalamazoo Public Schools. The awards may be used at any Michigan public institution of higher education.

"Immediately after the Kalamazoo Promise was made, we began talking internally about how the University could step forward and show support for this amazing opportunity being offered to young people in our home community," says John Beacon, WMU vice provost for enrollment management. "We decided to help by giving Kalamazoo Promise students an opportunity to enjoy the full university experience, which we believe includes living in a campus residence hall."

Beacon says funding for the offer will come primarily from two sources--unrestricted gifts to the University and federal need-based financial aid for which the Kalamazoo Promise students have qualified. The package, he says, does not involve either state tax dollars or revenue from student tuition.

"We will continue to hold to our high academic standards for admission to this University," says Beacon. "That means not every student who qualifies for the Kalamazoo Promise will be admitted. This fall, 65 graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools were admitted and enrolled, and many chose not to live on campus. We do not anticipate significant change in those numbers, at least for the first few years of the program, so the number of students who take advantage of our offer may be small. Like everyone, though, we want to see the Kalamazoo Promise initiative grow, and we're delighted at what this will mean for our community in the long term."

Beacon says each student accepted to WMU with a full or partial Kalamazoo Promise benefit will be asked to fill out federal financial aid forms to determine the amount of need-based grant assistance for which the student is eligible. That aid will be applied to WMU housing costs, and the University will make up the difference between grants and the actual housing costs through privately donated scholarship funds.

The unexpected announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise triggered a quick response by the University, Beacon says, because of WMU's long commitment to the community and to the role higher education can play in improving life at the local, state and national levels.

"This has been WMU's community for more than 100 years," he notes. "The University owes its very existence to the early efforts of community members and this is a wonderful way to repay that debt and make a contribution to the broader region by increasing the number of college graduates in this area."

Over the past decade, WMU and Kalamazoo have become close partners in economic development, a relationship that has resulted in construction of WMU's Business Technology and Research Park and establishment of the WMU Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center to attract new corporate partners to the area. University/community collaboration has also been at the heart of efforts to improve the success of at-risk students, and this year, Kalamazoo Public Schools became part of Gear Up, a federally funded WMU initiative aimed at boosting college enrollment among such students.

Beacon notes that the Kalamazoo Promise offer constitutes a small but important part of the University's total scholarship mix, and that mix is continually evaluated to ensure access for all students.

"More than 70 percent of our students receive some form of financial aid, and that assistance totals nearly $200 million annually. For those who don't live in Kalamazoo, there are an enormous number of both merit and need-based financial assistance opportunities that can be applied to tuition and fees and room and board," he says. "We are continually looking at our scholarship offerings and evaluating new opportunities for our students. The Kalamazoo Promise offer is one of many efforts under way."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
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