THE NEW COLLEGE TRY
December 12, 2008
Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr.'s College Bound plan -- which pledges to pay college tuition for children of all Hammond, Ind., homeowners -- may seem an odd use of tax revenue, but supporters insist it will attract home buyers, raising property values and civic commitment as it ups the education and skill levels of the city's population.
Across the rust belt and the nation, dozens of cities are pursuing similar projects, betting millions of dollars that free college education can foster widespread social change. A handful, including Kalamazoo, Mich., which pioneered the concept, were instant beneficiaries of generous donations from wealthy benefactors. Most, like Hammond, have had to fight for public funds or beg citizens for small contributions. For all their nascent successes, it's still not clear whether these massive civic investments are an innovative idea to aid ailing cities or a well-meaning misuse of money better spent elsewhere, says Miller-McCune:
- Critics say this program is little more than "a great campaign idea" to improve the mayor's image.
- Other say it will turn into middle-class welfare because it will benefit kids who have the "wherewithal to learn and meet minimum academic standards."
- Renters in Hammond say that College Bound won't make a difference because it isn't helping all city children.
Nevertheless, McDermott and town leaders are encouraged by what they've seen since College Bound launched:
- Although the school district has only just begun collecting statistics on how many graduates are pursuing higher education, there has been an increase in the number of kids who now say they want to go to college or are able to see college as a possibility.
- It may also be drawing more families into the district; enrollment has risen slightly during the past several years, particularly at the high school level.
- After falling by more than 1 percent (or nearly 1,000 people) per year since 2000, Hammond's population lost only half that many residents in the 12 months ending in June 2007, according to U.S. Census estimates.
Source: Ryan Blitstein, "The New College Try," Miller/McCune, November-December 2008.
Browse more articles on Tax and Spending Issues