Best-practices project for College Promise

A new initiative to help College Promise programs, which comprise a variety of free or discounted community college efforts around the country, will provide research-based best practices to improve students’ academic outcomes.

The education and social policy research organization MDRC is partnering with the College Promise Campaign and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Association to launch the College Promise Success Initiative. With funding from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates, the initiative will provide technical assistance and improvement and research support to College Promise and free-college programs.

Most of the nation’s more than 200 College Promise programs, often associated with the “free college” movement, fund tuition and fees to help low-income and other eligible students enter postsecondary education. But Promise advocates note that tuition is just one piece of the puzzle. Most low-income students face many obstacles to success once they enroll in college, resulting in many of them dropping out and unable to take full advantage of the available financial support.

Beginning this spring, MDRC will run a series of open-access webinars covering topics based on its research in postsecondary education. Programs can learn from MDRC and its partners to strengthen their operations, help their specific populations of students succeed, and implement best practices in areas such as behavioral science and student services.

“What’s clear from successful Promise programs is that they’re much more than last-dollar scholarships. The supports and services that are built into these programs are critical to helping students succeed once enrolled,” said Andy Carlson, SHEEO’s vice president of finance policy and member services.

The initiative builds on MDRC’s successful partnership with the Detroit Regional Chamber in creating the Detroit Promise Path, which added student success components to the existing Detroit Promise scholarship. MDRC’s evaluation found that the program had a sizable impact on enrollment in the second semester and on full-time enrollment in the first and second semesters. Detroit’s experience makes clear that strengthening promise programs can help students stay in college, according to advocates.

In addition, the initiative is working with the Los Angeles Community College District, the Community College of Rhode Island, the Flint Promise, the Richmond (California) Promise and Portland Community College to enhance their college promise programs.

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