As we approach the second quarter of the 21st century, our nation’s economic vitality, talent pipeline and civic prosperity are at risk. The “what’s best for me and mine” mindset, the growing divide between the “haves” and “have-nots,” and vitriolic political battles have escalated across our nation over issues as varied as gun control, immigration, global warming, educational equity, student loan debt and the economy.
A bright spot amidst the many controversies is the growing bipartisan consensus that collective action is needed for the U.S. to enjoy a better educated workforce, build a more inclusive, stable civic infrastructure in our local communities, and ensure that college is affordable for our nation’s students and families.
In tackling these challenges, Americans need a clear pathway to complete a high-quality postsecondary education without amassing significant college debt.
Despite the harsh realities of our time, glints of sunlight are sparkling all over America. Each sparkle has been the result of visionary architects, building trust and making public commitments to galvanize bipartisan leaders and partners from both the public and private sectors to solve education’s most pressing problems. These architects are committed to making broad systems change through collective impact for the betterment of their families, communities and states.
In doing this work together, they also know that education is foundational to solving the major problems of our time. They know this work is critical to realizing a thriving democracy for the 21st century. These designers — whether from business, education, government, philanthropy, labor or nonprofit organizations — are building College Promise programs across America.
The College Promise Campaign in Washington, D.C., is capturing the results of these architects’ tireless work, cross-sector contributions and multiple outcomes. Today, the Campaign serves the nation both as a systems integrator and clearinghouse for the growing College Promise movement. As we approach the 100th anniversary of the American Association of Community Colleges, community colleges are leading this movement forward. The Campaign began at Michigan’s Macomb Community College with an announcement by President Barack Obama on September 9, 2015.
The Campaign was led outside of the federal government by its founding honorary chair, Northern Virginia Community College English instructor and Former Second Lady of the United States Jill Biden, and its founding honorary vice chair, Gov. Jim Geringer (R-Wyoming), who ensured the sustainability of the Hathaway Scholars “Promise” during his eight-year term as governor of Wyoming.
In 2015, the Campaign identified 53 local College Promise programs in 10 states and Tennessee had just launched the statewide Tennessee Promise a year before. Local Promise results — years in the making — attracted governors and their legislatures to invest in and support statewide Promise programs for their residents. The Knoxville Promise was foundational to the Tennessee Promise; the Long Beach Promise to the California Promise, and local Promise innovation and results inspired expansion and scale.
Today, the Campaign has identified 320 Promise programs underway in 47 states, with many more in development. In 27 states, governors have enacted executive orders or signed legislation to implement their state’s unique version of the College Promise. Recent statewide launches and expansions include West Virginia, Washington and Utah.
Some statewide Promise programs are targeted toward first-time freshmen, working adults and/or workforce sectors only while others trend toward universality for all residents. Yet, despite these varied features, all Promise programs offer expanded opportunities for students, and the early outcomes from many Promise programs are both positive and promising.