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A report shows KPS grad college enrollment still outpacing similar school districts

the front doors of  a brick building with El Sol Elementary above the door and poster that says Kalamazoo Promise
Sehvilla Mann
From 2018 to 2022, the number of KPS graduates enrolling in college right after high school fell by 15 percent.

College enrollment dipped nationwide during the pandemic, and Michigan was no exception.

A new report finds fewer Kalamazoo Public Schools graduates enrolled in college during the pandemic. But the news is not all bad for college enrollment in the district that’s home to the Kalamazoo Promise.

A pandemic-era dip in enrollment

College enrollment for Kalamazoo Promise scholarship recipients went down at an even higher rate during the pandemic than it did in similar school districts, according to new research from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. In the last five years, KPS grad college enrollment fell by 15 percent. In other mid-sized urban school districts in Michigan, it fell by about 11 percent, and in Michigan as a whole, it went down about 9 percent.

A strong job market may have played a role

One of the report’s authors, Brad Hershbein, said the decline might have been caused by the booming job market. KPS grads have 10 years to use the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship, which means they may choose to work while the labor market is strong, with the intention of enrolling in college later. Hershbein said the scholarship's flexibility has its pros and cons.

“The difficulty with that is that we know from other research that the longer you wait, before coming back or enrolling in school, the harder it is to really finish and get a credential,” he said. “So those trade-offs are very evident in a lot of people's decision making.”

The report found that Black female KPS grads had one of the biggest dips in college enrollment.

Kathleen Bolter co-authored the report. She said previous studies showed that women benefited the most from the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship.  

“We're also seeing a trend nationwide and statewide in terms of Black students, Hispanic students. Fewer are enrolling in college,” said Bolter. “And I don't think that the causes of that have been really fully investigated.”

Still, KPS' college enrollment rate is relatively strong

Even with the pandemic-era decline, KPS graduates still enroll in college about 10 percent more than students in comparable school districts in Michigan.

The report also found that about 29 percent of KPS graduates earn a college credential within six years of enrollment. For students from similar districts, it’s 25 percent, and about 38 percent for Michigan graduates as a whole.