College Promise Programs

With financial support from Civic Nation and under the direction of Dr. Laura Perna, this project is designed to advance research-based understanding of College Promise programs in the United States.

What is a College Promise program?

Over the last decade—but especially in the past few years—programs with the "promise" label have been advanced at local, state, and federal levels. These programs are designed to increase college attainment in particular places. The Kalamazoo Promise program, created in 2005, inspired similar programs in economically disadvantaged communities in Michigan and other states. Researcher Michelle Miller-Adams and others at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research label these programs “place-based scholarship programs,” defined as programs that provide “universal or near-universal access” to financial support for college based on where students reside (e.g., school district or city) or whether they attend specified schools.

While this definition includes place-based scholarships modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise program, it does not capture many other college-oriented programs that also carry the promise label. Among the excluded are the so-called “free tuition” programs that have recently been adopted by some state governments. In February 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced the creation of the Tennessee Promise, an initiative that offers up to five semesters of free tuition and fees, effective for Tennessee residents graduating from a Tennessee high school in 2015. To be eligible, students must enroll in an in-state community or technical college immediately after graduating from a Tennessee high school and meet other requirements.

For more information on the College Promise Campaign, click here.

Programs with a promise label may have goals beyond simply promoting college attainment. This project focuses on programs with a goal of increasing higher education attainment. By offering the promise of a financial award or academic credit to students who meet specified eligibility criteria, College Promise programs have the potential to promote educational attainment, especially among students who would not otherwise attend college.

Learn more:

View a map of Promise programs

This interactive map displays the administrative location of College Promise programs that are actively operating or are in the process of being designed and implemented. Search by state or program name to learn about program eligibility requirements, financial awards, and program services. The map can be filtered by program status, and each dropped pin will reveal a box of program information.

For more information, refer to the program website links embedded within the map and explore our searchable program database.

Search for College Promise programs

College Promise programs vary in terms of the nature of the promise, target population, eligibility requirements, and other characteristics. Other programs do not have a promise label, but have characteristics that are similar to what we might consider to be a promise program. This variety in names and characteristics of programs is not unexpected, given the localized nature of program development. This variation may even be appropriate, given the importance of adapting programs to meet the needs of the target population and the characteristics of the local context.

Find Promise

Advancing research-based understanding of College
Promise programs.

Using the databases developed by the College Promise Campaign and Upjohn as a starting point, the research team created a comprehensive database that identifies the key components of College Promise programs operating nationwide. The database includes any program that has been identified by any source as a promise or promise-type program.

This searchable catalog allows users to identify programs with particular characteristics. The database includes programs that are operating now and that are under development as of June 2016.

We seek to provide the most up-to-date and comprehensive database of College Promise programs in the United States. To request that an additional program be added to the database or to update/edit information for an existing program, click here.

Find research on Promise programs

Using Google Scholar and research databases maintained by University of Pennsylvania Libraries, we systematically searched for research using keywords and combinations of keywords. Keywords include: place-based scholarships, promise program, state financial aid, need-based aid, and merit-based aid. We also identified research studies from W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and identified a handful of additional publications via Mendeley’s “recommended articles function.”

For a list of citations, click here.

To suggest that an additional research study be added to this list, click here.

For conclusions from available literature about the structure of Promise programs and directions for future research, click here.