NACAC at ASHE: College Promise Programs


Earlier this month, NACAC research associate Tara Nicola attended the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) to present NACAC work as well as stay abreast of the latest research in the field. This is the first in a series of posts highlighting exciting research relevant to admission and high school counseling professionals.

College promise programs have grown in popularity over the last decade as a means of increasing college access and completion. Specifically, they aim to reduce the financial burden of undertaking a postsecondary degree. These financial aid programs are essentially place-based scholarships, offered to students who live in a specific area or attend a certain school. Perhaps the most well-known promise program is the Kalamazoo Promise, which provides students enrolled in Kalamazoo Public Schools with full-tuition scholarships at any of Michigan’s public colleges or universities, as well as a few private institutions in the state.

Promise programs operate under a number of different frameworks. For example, some programs require students to meet a specific GPA requirement or maintain a minimum course load in order to be eligible for the scholarship. In addition, while certain programs, like the Kalamazoo Promise, are funded by private sponsors, others are publicly financed or rely on a mix of both public and private funding sources.

Despite the growth of promise programs, to date there is limited research about them. Laura Perna and her team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education’s Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (PennAHEAD) recently analyzed state and local promise programs, creating a comprehensive typology. In partnership with Civic Nation’s College Promise Campaign, they developed a searchable database that includes information about over 300 programs nationwide. In addition, they also released a report highlighting best practices for structuring these initiatives.

While college promise programs have the potential to increase equity in higher education, more research must be done to understand their impact on student attainment as well as their effects at the community and state levels.

Tara Nicola is a NACAC research associate. She can be reached at