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October 12, 2021

Interview with College Promise CEO Dr. Martha Kanter on the Growth of Promise and What’s Next for the Promise Movement

On October 12, 2021, College Promise released its newly updated catalog of nationwide Promise programs. This year, remarkable growth and sustainability have continued in communities and states across the country as Promise leaders from education, business, government, nonprofits, labor, and philanthropy deliver on their commitments to make and keep a college education universal, freely available, and accessible for Americans. Given this growth and support, we sat down with our CEO, Dr. Martha Kanter, to get her perspective on the significance of this moment and what it means for the future of the Promise movement.

What are some of the topline takeaways from this new catalog?

This new catalog provides detailed information about the 348 local and 33 statewide Promise programs - plus the District of Columbia - that offer funding and supports for students to complete the first two or more years of their postsecondary education. This catalog shows students where they can go to access Promise opportunities; these communities and states have made explicit “promises” to support their success. The catalog also enables us to take stock of the significant impacts of Promise programs across the nation, and to gauge the continued growth of the Promise movement.

Since the last catalog, we’ve heard from a wider range of local and statewide programs that are now included. For states, we’ve listed those that have signed legislation and/or executive orders, giving the Promise to their eligible residents. Local Promise leaders are also shown with information they have provided to us This expansion exemplifies how important postsecondary education and support systems are for students and communities in nearly every corner of our country, from rural locations to urban centers.

The free college movement has been more than a decade in the making. Why does this moment feel different?

It’s different because “free college” predominates the public narrative about the value and importance of an education beyond high school and a new federal investment with states may be possible. Exacerbated by the pandemic, we’ve simply lost millions of students - youth and adults - who should be pursuing their postsecondary education but never enrolled or dropped out. College Promise just celebrated its sixth anniversary. During this time we’ve learned a lot about what’s worked for local and statewide Promise programs and we’ve garnered significant buy-in from public and private sector leaders and policymakers. In our College Promise for All framework, we unpacked the unique funding streams available to Promise programs and highlighted how each financial provision could be aligned to better enable Promise programs to meet the diverse education and workforce needs of their communities. Funding streams are not a monolith, and we can now leverage our learnings to illustrate the designs, research, and policy strategies to help federal and state policymakers expand free college opportunities for our nation’s students with a comprehensive Federal-State Partnership.

We’ve also gathered significant data on the importance of wrap-around supports. We’ve released six policy briefs to describe the ecosystems of support needed to better serve our nation’s unique student populations, including student parents, Veterans, Dreamers, disconnected adults, and justice-impacted students, to name just a few. Now, leaders can use this information to develop or update their Promise programs to make college opportunity and affordability more equitable for all students, regardless of background or circumstance.

College Promise has come a long way since it first began during the Obama Administration. What’s next for the Promise Movement?

While College Promise has grown dramatically at the local and state levels, today with proposals from the White House and Congress for a Federal-State Partnership, we are one step closer to achieving our mission to make a college education as universal, free, and accessible as high school. Moving forward, we will make the strongest case we can to public and private sector leaders from all parties at all levels that College Promise is worth the additional investments of our time, effort, and money. That is why our College Promise for All policy framework underscores the need for buy-in from all sectors.

Our work at College Promise to eliminate the burden of college tuition and fees to whatever extent we can is critical for the vast majority of Americans. We also know that well-designed Promise programs help students persist through completion with wraparound supports that ensure better outcomes. We want students to afford their books, technology, transportation, and other basic needs to succeed in college, career, and civic life. The College Promise movement will do all it can to make the American dream a reality. For our nation’s students, we can do no less!

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