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Free University Education Sparks Economic Rebirth for Midwest City


The promise of a free college education has brought about a remarkable economic turnaround for the U.S. Midwestern city of Kalamazoo in the state of Michigan. The city had fallen on hard times until a group of philanthropists came up with a novel idea -- provide a free university education to every student enrolled in the Kalamazoo Public School system.

Housing sales are cooling off in most U.S. cities, but not in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Home prices are up seven percent. Builder Greg Dehaan says, "We see just a steady demand and we anticipate that demand increasing."

Even more remarkable is that the company Dehaan works for has accepted contracts to build $10 million worth of homes in the past 45 days. That's something that hasn't happened for many years.

This city used to be where they built Checker cabs. The city had a timber mill, an appliance factory and a corset company. All of them have been shut down. But last year, a group of philanthropists came together to stop the city's economic decline. They created the "Kalamazoo Promise" -- a fund that will pay the college tuition for every public school student in Kalamazoo.

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm says it's an impressive gift. "Unbelievable! What a gift, to not just the students but to the whole community and to the whole state. You know we have this goal of doubling the number of college graduates,” said the governor. “Kalamazoo is going to make that happen single-handedly thanks to the unbelievable generosity of some donors."

And it seems to be working. The school district says it added 450 new students this year.

New businesses are coming to town, many drawn here because of the obvious benefits for employees.

Here's how it works: Students who stay in the Kalamazoo Public School system from kindergarten through high school will have their entire tuition fees paid for at any Michigan public university. Students who enter the system by the ninth grade are eligible for at least 65 percent.

High school senior Andrea Smith thinks, "It's priceless -- the generosity -- because it's going to touch more than just the people who will get an education. It's gonna touch families and generations beyond that."

And it's being noticed by lawmakers outside Kalamazoo. City officials say they've been contacted by counterparts from Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania -- all of them with an eye to making promises of their own.

Mayor Hannah McKinney says Kalamazoo has a lot to be proud of. "We will be the education city. We will be a place where every kid goes to college."

And for Denise Galipeau-Singson -- who came with her two children from Honolulu -- that's enough reason to call Kalamazoo their new home. "I'm very, very positive and optimistic about this move," she says.

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