College Promise Programs Gathering Steam Across the Country

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

While the national conversation around college affordability has as of late focused on a growing call to make four-year college debt- or tuition-free, a central proposal from the Obama administration’s higher education agenda has been quietly expanding in states and communities across the country.

Over the last year, the number of College Promise programs – those that make two years of community college as universal and accessible as a high school education is today – has grown by 60 percent, the College Promise Campaign announced in a new report released Monday. Today, there are more than 150 “promise” programs across 37 states. There have also been more than 31 state legislative proposals introduced supporting promise programs.

“We’ve got a case to make that education is an investment, that high school is not enough,” said Martha Kanter, executive director of the College Promise Campaign, during a call with reporters on Monday. “We’ve got huge challenges in this country and we want to see everyone participating in crafting solutions.”

President Barack Obama announced the launch of the independent coalition last September as a way to bring together nonpartisan leaders from education, business, philanthropy, government, students, labor, and nonprofit organizations to research and advocate for such programs.

“There is an undeniable desire in communities and states to develop and expand College Promise programs for millions more students in the years ahead,” the report said. “As we move ahead with our Campaign, we’ll continue to work with leaders throughout the country, researchers on the cutting edge of higher education, and powerful grassroots communities to fund a community college education for students willing to work for it. We are confident that the rapid growth we’ve seen in the first year is just the beginning.”

Although the general idea the Obama administration put forth nearly two years ago – two years of free community college for students who meet certain requirements – has been expanding through different programs nationwide, the programs vary widely in terms of how they deliver their “promise,” and how they are funded. Rather than the federal-state partnership Obama laid out in his proposal, many promise programs are structured under state or private funding models. Others use children’s savings accounts, outcome-based funding, or consumer purchasing to create an endowment.

The campaign on Monday also released a searchable database that has a map of promise programs across the country, and a collection of research on the topic.

Moving forward, the campaign will continue to collect research and examine the structure of promise programs to develop an effective and sustainable model, members of the group said during a call with reporters on Monday.

As more promise programs begin to surface, for example, the campaign could look into the impact they could have on financial aid policy, said Michael Nettles, senior vice president of Educational Testing Service (ETS).

Many promise programs, Nettles said, are last-dollar, meaning students use federal financial aid first, and aid from the promise program would make up the difference. Promise programs may also be a way to help alleviate the student debt burden from some students, he added.

“As these promise initiatives mature, they are likely to have an increasing relationship with the federal student aid,” Nettles said.


Publication Date: 10/25/2016

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