On the verge of dropping out of high school after just a year, Jeremiah Mansfield seized hold of an opportunity to change his life. Thanks to the support of coaches, teachers, guidance counselors and The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo’s College and Career Access Network, he graduated from Gull Lake High School in 2014. He received three scholarships – the Montague Myers Scholarship, the Kreager Family Scholarship and the James W. and Thelma Garside Scholarship – from the Community Foundation and recently completed his freshman year at Spring Arbor University. Photo by Erik Holladay.

When Kalamazoo Community Foundation President/CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway and our team talk about education, we think Big Picture.

Education is one of the Community Foundation’s Big 3 Goals, along with equity and engagement. The three goals are interconnected and equally important, but education is viewed as the path to future growth and prosperity.

With education as one of our major goals, the Community Foundation has continued to invest in existing partnerships with local nonprofits. For example, last year we gave a $161,783 grant to the Kalamazoo Center for Youth and Community, which serves students in the Eastside and Eastwood neighborhoods.

But the Community Foundation’s main education efforts are our decades-old scholarship program and The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo, which we helped create in 2011.

"Each year our scholarship program helps hundreds of students in Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties continue their education after high school," says Pickett-Erway. "And The Learning Network is a powerful demonstration of our commitment to collaboration that can generate community-level outcomes."

The Learning Network

Housed at the Community Foundation and supported by the Community Foundation with financial and other resources, The Learning Network was established by community leaders who recognized the importance of lifetime learning. Central to its mission is a philosophy that education and learning are keys to community prosperity as well as individual success. Today it is led by a council of leaders from local institutions representing business, healthcare, law enforcement, education and social services. Pickett-Erway serves as its chair.

"In today’s economy, when it comes to finding a good job that will support an individual, enable him or her to provide for a family and begin to build wealth, we know that education beyond high school is critical," says Amy Slancik, director of The Learning Network. "But it’s not enough to tell someone they need to continue their education. We have to help them succeed."

The Learning Network was inspired by the Kalamazoo Promise, but is not a scholarship program. Rather, it is a dynamic, growing collaboration of individuals and organizations embracing a vision that every person in Kalamazoo County will be ready for school, post-secondary education and the world. To achieve this ambitious goal, The Learning Network knits together aligned local resources to offer wrap-around support for students from cradle to career.

Since its inception, accountability and transparency have been core values of The Learning Network. It supports these through a public scorecard that makes milestones in education easily identifiable and understandable by all stakeholders: parents, practitioners, educators, evaluators and others.The result of evidence-based research, the scorecard shows performance data that measure how well Kalamazoo County is meeting broad educational goals. This focus on measurement helps ensure The Learning Network generates results, not just effort.

The Learning Network also is part of a national alliance of communities doing similar work, which enables it to draw from best practices – and share its own – with organizations in more than 60 communities nationwide.

Says Pickett-Erway, "If we have more educated residents earning a wage, paying taxes, taking care of their families, and giving back with their volunteer time and resources, everyone in this community has greater quality of life."