The Syracuse Promise
Free College Tuition For Syracuse High School Graduates: as an economic stimulus and a means to significantly improve city schools average test scores. (A letter to the mayor of Syracuse, NY.)
September 7, 2006
Dear Mayor Driscoll:
I recently read that Kalamazoo, MI has intiated the Kalamazoo
Promise program, offering free tuition at Michigan state colleges
and universities to Kalamazoo city high school graduates beginning
in the 2006 academic year. Private anonymous donations are funding
the program. The coverage is actually 65-100%, depending on years
of residency. Students apply for all the usual grants, and the program
cover the difference. Coverage is for tuition and fees. Of course,
students must still qualify academically for whichever school they
wish to attend. Kalamazoo has 75,000 residents, and 65 students
joined the program in the fall of 2006, the first year. The Kalamazoo
Promise website: http://www.kalamazoopublicschools.com
I wondered if Syracuse could benefit by making the same offer, the
Syracuse Promise. Following is some back-of-napkin accounting.
Syracuse has roughly 144,000 residents, suggesting that 125 students
a year would join the program (using Kalamazoo's ratio). New York
State college tuition and fees cost roughly $6,000 per year, so the
program would cost $750,000 per year per class, and $3,000,000 per
year in full cycle (4 years). Existing grant programs would defray
a significant part of this cost. Of course the number of students
may rise over time.
What are the likely effects of such a program on Syracuse?:
- The program would profoundly encourage people to move into Syracuse
from the suburbs and even from areas out of state. This would help
to infill the roughly 8,000-9,000 vacant households in Syracuse,
and stimulate new residential construction or remodeling. In Kalamazoo,
construction projects increased from $0 to $10M within 45 days of
the Kalamazoo Promise announcement.
- It would likely boost city schools average test scores significantly
as many under-priviledged students would now see a real opportunity
of college and better jobs by doing well in school. Of course, the
parents of such students would see this as well. A powerful sense
of opportunity would arise in discussions within neighborhood groups
and churches, helping to focus students and parents on school.
- It would be a big selling point for Syracuse both to businesses and
families considering moving here. The higher city school test scores--and
presumably higher quality education due to more focused students--would
be as strong a selling point as the tuition benefit. Even students
expecting to go to private university (or not at all) would benefit
from a more focused student population.
- Locally, OCC and ESF could see a nice uptick in enrollment, helping
to retain local students in the area through their college years.
- Student graduates of the program would be more likely to stay in Syracuse
which served them so well. The whole community would gain greater
stability and stronger roots.
- SU might also be coaxed into participating in whatever way it deemed
appropriate. It would be enough if SU offered discounted tuition equal
to state colleges tuition. It would be fine if its offer extended
to only the most financially needy students (so as not to undermine
its existing revenue base). An act of generosity and community-building
toward the city.
- A rising average education level of residents will lead to a rising
average household income, boosting the local economy.
- Syracuse would gain considerable national media attention, as Kalamazoo
How would the program be financed? Some things to consider:
- The $3M per year cost of the program is roughly 1% of the $262M
city school budget. Would the city schools spend 1% of their budget
on a program they were confident would significantly increase student
- Our elected representatives could probably drum up a few million dollars
for this. They find tens of millions of dollars per year for an assortment
of economic development projects. The Syracuse Promise would
also be an economic development project, and would likely have a far
greater economic impact for the money then traditional development
- Local businesses, the MDA, and other business groups could be solicited
for funds. It would be a high return on investment for them as well.
- Syracuse University could sponsor its own participation very effectively
with in-kind contribution. It's out-of-pocket marginal costs should
be much less than $1M per year. It could also cap the number of students
accepted, if necessary.
A $3M per year investment for such a project seems like a bargain,
considering the likely benefits. Part of the reason the cost seems
modest is because many college-bound students will choose private
or out-of-state colleges. However, a truly successful program may,
after several years, lead to 4-5 times as many students taking the
offer. But that would be wonderful, and the best $12M-$15M per
year spent on education. The city school district could save that
much in expenses simply by having more focused students (and use the
savings to fund the program). In any case, traditional education grants
would defray a good portion of the cost.
How can we calculate the project's economic impact in numbers? Here's
a scenario and rough calculation of some of the direct stimulus the
program could generate. There is surely more to add to this:
- If the program causes 1000 families with 1500 children to move into
Syracuse, the city would receive from the state and local taxes roughly
$13,000 for each new student (based on $262M budget divided by 20,000
students), or $19.5M per year ($13,000x1500 students) in school
related taxes. That inflow of money alone would create roughly 400
- 1000 households will spend roughly $10,000/yr per household in taxable
purchases, generating $10M in direct economic activity and $800K
in sales taxes. About 1/2 of that expenditure would be local ``value
add'', leading to another 100 jobs or so.
- These households will spend another roughly $35,000 each ($35M)
on other goods and services, for an additional local ``value add''
of perhaps $20M, leading to another 400 jobs.
- Some of the new residents will have their own business and will bring
their own employment as well as employment for others.
- Over the long-run more highly educated Syracuse natives will send
back more money or will stay here and cause the average household
spending in Syracuse to rise. Property values will rise, properties
will be improved, the tax base will rise, and the quality of schools
will improve. All will greatly enhance Syracuse as a desirable place
to live, which will also draw the wealthier households that have tended
to move to the suburbs.
Well, that's the idea. I think the program could be justified just
as a means to substantially increase the average performance of Syracuse
schools. But it can also be justified as an economic development program to attract
new residents. Also, a stronger and more highly regarded school system
(the program would get a lot of publicity) would help paint Syracuse
in a new light. Perhaps the beginning of something more.
I pass this along to you in the hope you might find it useful in some
way. If you think the idea may be feasible and would like to discuss
it further, I will be happy to oblige.
To comment, contact cmoneti ATT arsteca DOT net