You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti schools to pursue college scholarship program similar to Kalamazoo Promise

By Danielle Arndt


State Rep. David Rutledge speaks in favor of the Ypsilanti-Willow Run merger at a joint meeting back in the spring of 2012. Rutledge, who has been a big proponent of the consolidation, now is working to help the new unified district establish two-year college scholarships for all graduating students.

Danielle Arndt |

Could two years of free tuition to community college be guaranteed to graduating students of the new Ypsilanti Community Schools district? A group of school and community leaders are trying to make it happen.

One goal of the Ypsilanti Community Schools district is to ensure all students have the chance to earn college credit or career credentials by the time they don their caps and gowns to receive their high school diplomas.

One way the district hopes to make good on that ambition is to launch something similar to the Kalamazoo Promise, a scholarship program that began eight years ago and is available to any graduate of the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

School officials in collaboration with business and community leaders, and State Reps. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, and Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, have been meeting to discuss how to make a scholarship program like the Promise possible in eastern Washtenaw County.

The Ypsilanti Community Schools district launches Monday, marking the end of Ypsilanti Public Schools and Willow Run Community Schools, two troubled eastern county school systems with storied histories.

Students from both districts will attend class together in the fall. The merger has been touted by officials as being a "clean slate" and a fresh opportunity to improve student achievement and shrink the districts' combined $13 million debt.

Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Menzel, who also will serve as the superintendent of YCS during the merger transition, said officials and key community players have been working through the logistics of offering a Promise-like scholarship in Ypsilanti, though he was doubtful the program would initially be as robust.

"At this point in time, we don't have any big donors lined up," Menzel said. "… Setting up a promise that students could get two years paid for at WCC (Washtenaw Community College) seems like far more reachable of a target as we've been looking at what's possible. But obviously, we wouldn't deny people the opportunity to give if this becomes a particular passion for people in the community.


WISD and YCS Superintendent Scott Menzel

Daniel Brenner | file photo

"If we find there are enough passionate people, then absolutely, we'd love to make this more than (a two-year scholarship)."

The Kalamazoo Promise scholarship program was established in 2005 by a group of community leaders with the backing of generous, anonymous donors. The Promise scholarship is available to all students who graduate from KPS, are residing in the district and have been at KPS for four years or more.

The scholarship program covers 65 percent to 100 percent of tuition and "mandatory fees" to any two- to four-year public college or university in Michigan.

The percentage of the cost paid for depends on how long the student has attended KPS. Twelve years (grades K-12) with the district equates to 100 percent covered, whereas a student who has attended only grades 9-12 receives 65 percent of his or her college tuition paid.

Menzel said because YCS is a new district, there is not a good way of knowing how many students for certain will enroll this fall. The district has done projections and is now working on further projections to pinpoint how many graduating seniors the district could have this year that would meet the GPA requirements and entrance-level assessment scores on the ACT for being admitted into Washtenaw Community College.

Menzel said once this step is complete, leaders will have a fundraising target to shoot for — which is important, he said, because the district would want to be able to honor the promise of two years' free tuition for all students that would academically qualify.

One year of tuition at WCC for students taking a standard course load of 15 credit hours per semester is $2,880, according to the college's website.

Of providing a Kalamazoo-like promise to Ypsilanti students, Rutledge said the model is there, "we just need to tweak it to fit our students." He added community leaders have been speaking with Promise Executive Director Janice Brown for advice and to learn more about how the program got off the ground.

Being able to offer two paid years of college education could be a "game changer" and the difference between parents choosing YCS instead of a charter school, Rutledge said.

"We are going to make this new district so strong and are going to provide more of what parents are looking for," the legislator said. "I think if we do that right — and I have the confidence that we absolutely are — then parents will see that what we offer is not simply a quality K-12 education piece, which will get demonstrated over time, but also ... that the district is looking at innovative ways of taking their child into an expanded higher education experience."

Menzel added community leaders hope to be able to use Ypsilanti Community Schools as a pilot, but eventually to expand the scholarship program to make it countywide.

Read more about the Kalamazoo Promise:

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

There seem to be a lot of sleepy people in that photo.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 6:37 p.m.

and then there is the data from Kalamazoo....


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

Sad fact is 90% of the students do not meet grade level expectations for high school as shown by MEAP scores. Certainly not the group I would spend millions on for further education.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

based on the really low testing levels including the recent ACT results...I think this effort is putting the cart about 3 miles before the horse. the new district needs to get the basics in place first - positive educational results.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 6:50 p.m.

acutally EEP is not right on. Kzoo has proven that with the data. look, here is what is going on: we are merging two incredibly low performing school districts and we are getting a sales job instead of an honest accounting on what this will accomplish. we have the same kids, same families with the same educational backgrounds as before. we have the same but way fewer teachers and student-facing staff so that ratio is getting worse. and a ton of distractions: oooh look, new colors! oooh look, new mascott! oooh look new board members (except they really aren't). oooh look we can do a KZoo promise thingy! oooh look we can design a new curriculumn (but we've been doing that yearly for??? and paying the same old consultants)... magical thinking isn't going to make real change.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

Ask yourself this. If you were given the option of sending your child to a high performing charter/school of choice school or sending them to a poorly performing school that will give them a little bit of money towards as associate degree (which is pretty much a high school diploma now), what would you choose? No parent is going to move their child into a district that makes promises of helping with community college tuition. Or at least not the parents that people are expecting will help raise the achievement level. Great thought and, if paired with all of the state four year schools, it could be a great boost to Ypsi and our economy. Other states have done this to keep the best and brightest students in state and in traditional public schools. But this plan is insulting to parents who moved their children out because of the poor achievement of YPS and WR schools. It is nothing more than a cheap attempt to buy their children's per pupil dollars from the state And once again, who is going to fund it? Some random millionaire or billionaire? These are the questions that have to be flushed out before even presenting this pipe dream to the public. If they offer this up and pull it, the exodus will only get worse and what little credibility the board and admin have will be gone.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

Eep is right on.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 4:13 p.m.

No argument with "positive educational results" needing to be the priority. Programs like this can actually lead to positive educational results. First, the scholarships provide a direct incentive for current students to study, achieve good grades, stay in school, and graduate. Students who may have believed that college was unatainable will know that money is there to help pay for their post-high school education. Second, a program like this gives families an incentive to either a) remain in the district, or even b) move into the district. The parents who are most likely to be influenced by this kind of incentive are exactly the type of parents a struggling district needs: parents who are concerned about their child's education and engaged with the educational process. Having these students stay in the district improves the atmosphere in the classroom and helps "drag up" students who are struggling.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 3:53 p.m.

It's so frustrating to read negative responses. My kids go to Ypsi schools and are doing well. I would donate to a fund to help all Ypsi kids. Nothing will happen with negative attitudes.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

Unless the City of Ypsilanti very quickly reverses its slide into bankruptcy, none of this matters.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

This reads uncomfortably like a bribe to keep them in YPS.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

. . . much as the Kalamazoo Promise not only worked as a bribe to keep kids in the KPS, but served to induce people to move into town. The impact of the Kalamazoo Promise on the community has been far beyond simply funding the college education of KPS graduates. GN&GL


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 3:29 p.m.

People make choices based on incentives all the time.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

It reads not so much like a bribe to keep them in school in general, but a bribe to keep them from switching from YPS to a charter or some other district. "Being able to offer two paid years of college education could be a "game changer" and the difference between parents choosing YCS instead of a charter school, Rutledge said"


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 2:23 p.m.

I guess you could look at any scholarship as a "bribe" to keep a student in school, but I'm not sure why it would make you uncomfortable.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 1:17 p.m.

Not in a million years will this happen in Ypsi. Focus on the attainable and stop wasting time and resources on pipedreams.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

Eep, I think with about 500 kids graduating per year, the fund would need to pay for about 1,000 kids at WCC at a time, or about $3 million annually, implying an endowment of about $60 million. I agree, I'd like to see it happen. Seems like Tom Monaghan had his first Dominos in Ypsi, right? :-)


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

I was assuming the commitment would be on the order of $3,000 per year for two years for each student, regardless of what school they attended. You're right, not all will take advantage of it. And, you're right, you can start without the full endowment but eventually you need to get there.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

You're assuming that every single graduate would choose to attend a community college. The reality is that some will choose not to attend college at all, and others will forgo the community college scholarship and enroll directly in a 4-year program that isn't covered. It's also possible to get a program like this up and running without a fully funded endowment, so long as they begin with a reasonable amount of money and continue to raise funds each year and add to the endowment above their operating expenses.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 11:46 a.m.

OK, now let's discuss how it CAN be done! We need thinkers like Eep. It's easy to be negative, but what a great idea.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 5:30 p.m.

In theory it is long as they are working with 4 year schools. In this reality, it's a horrible idea. Where is the money going to come from? Who is going to administer it? And why not reward students who want to go to one of the directional schools or Umich or State? Why are they funneling kids to WCC? And parents who move their children out of the district most likely want their children to go to a four year university/college, not WCC. If they were determined enough to move their kids out of the district and transport them to school, why would they come back for 2 free years of community college? This isn't going to bring anyone back and will just be a gigantic drain on a broke school district. It is nothing more than desperate politicians and administrators trying to buy students back into the district. How about you spend the money on the reasons why the students are leaving (facilities, teachers, etc) instead of marketing garbage. What's next, a free ipad with every child enrolled? Maybe a set of steak knives? So sure, it can be done. The question to ask yourself is why.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 11:01 a.m.

Didn't the 2 districts merge because of financial reasons? How can they come up with $2880 per graduate and have enough funds to do a good job teaching the students in their district? It's a great way to get kids back in the public school system and out of charter schools, but it seems like a pipe dream.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 12:25 p.m.

The money wouldn't come from school funds or taxes but from outside donations.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

I agree it's a pipe dream, as Ypsilanti doesn't have a resident liberal billionaire.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 10:29 a.m.

Sigh. There is no one donor in Ypsi, or even Washtenaw county, that comes close to having the wealth of the Kalamazoo Promise donor. That donor makes the Forbes 'World's Billionaire' list each year. Focus on something more achievable, like graduation rates, early childhood education, literacy ...


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 5:37 p.m.

University fundraising is a completely different beast. EMU's endowment has taken years to build and, as their foundation site says, they have a database of 150,000 living alumni living across the US and in foreign countries. Ypsi schools doesn't have that base of support. The entire city has a population of what, 20,000? I appreciate the optimism and applaud the big thinking. However, it takes money to raise money, and YPS has other challenges to address. Instead of launching this, perhaps YPS should get behind the bill Warren introduced to create the Promise statewide. Snyder's daughter and at least one of Ford Jr's kids went to Greenhills.

Basic Bob

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 5 p.m.

snyder and ford kids went to ann arbor huron


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

@Chimay - the EMU Foundation has an endowment worth about $51 million dollars. They are located in Washtenaw County - and I assume that EMU isn't the "U" that you were referring to. I'm not suggesting that this would be easy, by the way; I'm just suggesting that it's not a completely impossible pipe dream.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

Well, we know how willing Snyder would be. Although, I'm sure he'd enjoy driving a bulldozer to raze their buildings.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : noon

Exactly. Neither Snyder nor Ford would give to Ypsi schools. I think their kids go to Greenhills. Eep, show me another nonprofit campaign for $25 million in Washtenaw County that was successful, excluding the U obviously.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 11:57 a.m.

@mmppcc, I was simply addressing Chimay's argument that there was no one in Washtenaw County with the kind of wealth that would be necessary to fund this type of program. I have no idea how willing any of them would be to actually make such a donation.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 11:49 a.m.

Eep, did you seriously suggest Snyder as a donor to Ypsi Schools? Maybe Cabelas will donate to PETA too.


Tue, Jun 25, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.

The merged district will probably have a total enrollment of about 5500 students, which is less than half the total enrollment in Kalamazoo. The proposed scholarship program will only cover 2 years, rather than 4 years of college. The proposed program will be limited to community colleges, where tuition is about 1/3 (or less) the cost of public four-year colleges and universities. This means that the proposed Ypsilanti scholarship program would cost about 8.3% of what the Kalamazoo program costs. To be conservative, let's round it up to 10%. From what I can find on the web, the total annual payout from the Kalamazoo Promise is about $12 million dollars. To generate that amount of money per year on an ongoing basis, they need an endowment of about $250 million dollars. Based on the figures above, this means that the Ypsilanti program would need an endowment of about $25 million dollars. That's certainly a lot of money - but there are people in Washtenaw County with that level of wealth. People with last names like Snyder and Ford, for example.