College Promise is the latest college access movement in the United States. With more than 200 programs across the nation — a number that grows every year — College Promise is driving national conversations about college access and affordability. These programs typically cover college tuition and fees for students in a particular geographic area to attend college. Some programs help students at a particular high school, while others are broader, serving all students in a city or state. Many of these programs reach out to families well before students are considering college to show them that college is a viable option for everyone.
The Detroit Promise, administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber, has operated since 2013 under its former name, the Detroit Scholarship Fund. The Detroit Promise offers Detroit’s recent high school graduates a last-dollar scholarship – meaning all tuition and fees are covered after financial aid is applied – to any of five area community colleges. The scholarship covers three years of tuition. While the program has substantially reduced financial barriers to attend community college for the city’s high school graduates, Detroit Promise students’ persistence rates once they arrive in community college remain distressingly low.
To improve students’ college experience and help more students persist and graduate, the Chamber partnered with MDRC to create the Detroit Promise Path, which adds proven-effective student support services onto the existing scholarship. The services include a comprehensive coaching component with a dedicated campus coach and monthly financial supports to offset other costs of attendance, such as transportation. The program, operated centrally out of the Chamber, relies on data tracking through a Management Information System to ensure it is operating effectively, to monitor students’ progress, and to communicate with students.
MDRC is evaluating the Detroit Promise Path using a randomized controlled trial design. The first cohort of students enrolled in fall 2016, and early findings from the evaluation show that the program is helping these students stay enrolled and enroll full-time. A second cohort will enroll in fall 2017.