It wasn’t until the second semester of his freshman year in college that Tinashe Chaponda realized how good he had it.
The now-23-year-old watched as his friends at Western Michigan University were stressed out about affording tuition and finding jobs with a salaries high enough to pay back student loans after they graduated.
Chaponda built his class schedule around what he was interested in, not necessarily what would pay well. And, since he could afford not to work while in school, Chaponda had the time to start an organization that connects students interested in volunteering with local nonprofits.
How did he do it? He credits an innovative program, the Kalamazoo Promise, which covers tuition and fees for students who attend the city’s public high schools for all four years and graduate in Chaponda’s hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Western Michigan University is located.
Kalamazoo’s program, which was started in 2005 and is funded by anonymous donors, was one of the first, notable examples of what has become a movement. The idea gained momentum with a 2015 proposal from President Barack Obama to make two years of community college free. Separate plans floated by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election season put the idea front and center. There has been no progress on the issue at a national level under President Donald Trump.
Types of programs
Michelle Miller-Adams, a senior researcher at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo who has studied promise programs for years, divides them into three categories. “They all have different motivations,” she said.
The first are place-based scholarships. Like the Kalamazoo Promise, those programs provide free college to students from a specific region. The idea is that the promise of free college will encourage investment in local institutions that prepare students to take advantage of the scholarship, such as K-12 public schools, and draw families and businesses to the area.
The second type is free-college initiatives at the state level. In states including Tennessee and New York, a major goal is to buoy the state’s workforce, Miller-Adams said.
The third encompasses programs offered by the post-secondary schools themselves.