The Atlantic magazine describes a Michigan community's efforts to send all its kids to college with the help of scholarship support. Every gift makes a difference in the life of a student.

You have likely heard of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship. For the uninitiated, the program is a college scholarship for graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools. It is funded by anonymous donors, and is in its 10th year. To be eligible, students must live in the district and have started in the district by 9th grade. The scholarship pays for all a student’s tuition for a degree from any Michigan public college and any of fifteen private Michigan colleges, and students have ten years to use the award. Awards are made regardless of merit or need. A recent study into the impact of this program revealed that it significantly increases college graduation rates.

But what about those who may not have the ability to fund a $300 million program like the Kalamazoo Promise? Can they still make a difference? In a word: yes.

Clearly, the impact of the gift from these anonymous donors to the Kalamazoo Promise has been life changing for those who have benefited from the award and for the community. They are an inspiration to us all.

But what about those who may not have the ability to fund a $300 million program like the Kalamazoo Promise? Can they still make a difference?

In a word: yes.

An August 18 article in The Atlantic profiles the lesser-known Baldwin Promise, a scholarship program established in Baldwin, Michigan. “The Town That Decided to Send All Its Kids to College” discusses how an effort started by one man, the late Rich Simonson, changed the attitude of a community. Simonson returned to Baldwin after his retirement, and was dismayed to see how few students from the community were able to obtain a college education. His brainchild solution would become known as the Baldwin Promise, a crowd-funded scholarship effort supported by the community itself. Simonson raised money from friends, teachers, and community members with the hopes of being able to offer a scholarship to every graduating senior. Donations were what people could afford to give. Simonson started by asking everyone he knew for just $500, with the ability to do so through a payment plan. That may seem like a small gift – over the course of a year it’s comes out to about the cost of a monthly dinner out for two. But when those small gifts were combined, boy did they add up! The group raised a total of $160,000 in that first effort, enabling them to offer the scholarships to high school seniors.

The scholarship is a $5,000 per-year middle-dollar scholarship, meaning that students get it after applying for federal and institutional aid. Baldwin has the second-highest poverty level in Michigan, and many students qualify for Pell Grants and other aid. The Baldwin Promise steps in where these funds leave off. But it does more than that. The Baldwin Promise led to a revolution in the way education is discussed in the community. Children are taught as early as kindergarten that if they apply themselves then college is an option for their future. The district’s curriculum was audited and revamped in order to better prepare students to attend college. The Baldwin high school now has a College Access Center, and students are offered special programs to learn skills for living on their own while at college. They have the opportunity to meet with representatives from colleges around the state. Every year during a “Decision Day” assembly, high school seniors announce to their peers where they will be attending college the following year. All this in a district that just ten years ago had only 12 of 32 students enroll in college, just two of whom would obtain a bachelor’s degree.

In The Atlantic’s article, students discuss how the scholarship removed some of the “fear in people’s hearts about going to college.” The change in attitude in the community has made students realize that they have potential, when before they couldn’t see it in themselves. Students refer to the scholarship as a motivating factor, saying that to them it’s their community saying that they believe in them and they’ll support them. Many students will be the first generation in their family to attend college. More and more students are off to college each year, coming from a county where just eight percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher (compared to 25 percent of the state population).

Make a difference with a gift to the MSU Promise Scholarship. Only time will tell how great an impact this scholarship will have on this community. But you can be sure that each small donation that made the program possible had a direct impact on the lives of the students who received the scholarships.

For those interested in supporting scholarships at Michigan State University:

The MSU Promise Endowed Scholarship Fund was created to allow donors who want to contribute to general undergraduate student scholarships a vehicle to do so, while recognizing that many donors do not wish to start an endowment of their own or may not have the means to do so. Donations to this fund help the University award many scholarships each year.

Featured Article

Not Just A Scholarship: Tanzania Partnership Program

A donor-funded study abroad program expanded students' worldview and instilled in them the urge to give back to their Tanzanian host community.

Featured Article

Joe D. Pentecost Foundation: Helping Other People Excel

The Joe D. Pentecost Foundation supports several scholarships for students in the greater Lansing area, including awards for students who transfer from Lansing Community College to continue their studies at Michigan State University.

Featured Article

STARR Charitable Foundation: Not Just A Scholarship

In 1998, anonymous donors created a scholarship that has now given over $12 million to Spartans at MSU, changing lives in the process.