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Table of Contents

Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 2

Chapter I. States Taking the Lead in Making Colleges Tuition Free: Current State Programs .... 5
Chapter II. The Case for Making College Tuition Free ................................................................. 32
Chapter III. What’s in Your Promise? ........................................................................................... 43
Chapter IV. Funding and Sustaining Promise Programs ............................................................ 71
Chapter V. Putting It All Together ................................................................................................ 79

Appendix I. K12 and Post-Secondary Support Services: The Kalamazoo Promise ................... 89
Appendix II. Mentoring: The Tennessee Promise’s Secret to Success ....................................... 98
Appendix III. Support Services for Underserved Students: The COSI Experience .................. 101
Appendix IV. Successful Strategies for Improving College Completion .................................. 105
Appendix V. Leveraging Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ............................................... 110
Appendix VI. Leveraging Open Education Resources (OER)..................................................... 113

Other Resources for Policymakers .......................................................................................... 117

About the Campaign for Free College Tuition ........................................................................ 118


America’s future prosperity and its citizens’ access to opportunity depend on increasing educational
opportunities beyond high school for all students. Public education has always been principally a joint
state-community effort. Once again, states led by visionary Governors and state legislators are
responding to the need to expand public education for their residents. The case for public action is
clear as states struggle to position their workforce to compete successfully in an increasingly
demanding and global marketplace.

States with the highest levels of educational attainment are the places that are winning in today’s
competitive global economy. Business climate matters, but the percentage of a state’s workforce with
a college degree or occupational certificate matters most. The challenge is to move a state’s level of
educational attainment higher and to make sure that every person who is willing to work hard and get
good grades has equal access to post-secondary degrees, regardless of family income.

This document describes programs at the state level that are removing price as a barrier to post-
secondary education. Although there are many alternative approaches to improving college
affordability, they offer, at best, a piecemeal solution. Providing tuition free opportunities at public
colleges and universities is far superior to the hodgepodge of aid packages and loans that are offered
to many students by college financial aid offices in an opaque process that rarely motivates students
to apply in the first place. By contrast, a promise of free tuition is easily understood by students and
their families. It provides certainty, encourages students to enroll, and builds on the nation’s history
of providing free public education.

The path to providing free tuition is not an easy one but we’ve faced similar challenges in our history.
The need for a literate citizenry in the new Republic led to free universal primary education by the
time of the Civil War. The rapid industrialization of America in the late 19 th and early 20th century made
the creation of free secondary education a necessity by the end of World War I. This expansion of
educational opportunity occurred state-by-state and community-by-community. Recognizing the
path to our country’s success in an age of global competition depends on an educated workforce,
state and community leaders across the country are once again stepping up to the challenge of
expanding free public education to assure economic growth and individual opportunity for their

Evidence from states that have taken action demonstrates that offering free college tuition is an
effective way to increase the number of high school graduates who enroll in community college:

● Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was the first governor to make community
college tuition free in 2014. In the first year of the Tennessee Promise, enrollment in the state’s
community colleges increased by 24.7% and by 20% in their colleges of applied technology
(TCAT). The percentage of black students increased from 14% to 19% and the share of
Hispanic students went up from 4% to 5%. The percentage of white students enrolled in
community colleges declined from 74% to 70%.

● Oregon, with leadership from Democratic State Senator Mark Hass, followed suit in 2015. The
previous year, 5,709 public high school graduates enrolled in community colleges for at least
six credits, which represents 16.3% of the public graduating class. After the Oregon Promise
was implemented, 6,553 public high school graduates took advantage of the program,
representing approximately 18.5% of the public graduating class.

● The Democratic Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, convinced a reluctant state
legislature to make her state’s lone community college tuition free in 2017. Even though they
had only one month, and no extra marketing money to spread the word that tuition would be
free that fall, the number of students enrolling full time directly from high school rose by 47%
– more than 1,400 such students enrolled in the Fall 2017 semester, compared to 950 the
previous year. The impact on the Community College of Rhode Island included a 62% increase
in full time, first time, high school (FTFTHS) students of color.

Some form of tuition free college is now in place in more than a dozen states and the numbers
continue to rise as the level of public support for the idea becomes clear. Polling conducted by PSB
exclusively for the Campaign for Free College Tuition (CFCT) indicates that about three-fourths of the
American public favor state governments providing free tuition at their colleges or universities for those
who are academically qualified. That level of bipartisan support has held steady for over a year, in the
middle of an ever more polarized national political climate.

The results of increased enrollment in so-called “Promise states” and the continuing bipartisan
support for the concept in our surveys means that making public colleges tuition free is the most
effective, popular program that states have the power to enact.

All of this free college tuition activity over the past decade at the state level means there are lessons to
be learned from others about starting such programs, operating them effectively, and funding them.
One purpose of this briefing book is to share those experiences. We’ll also provide evidence of their
effectiveness from those programs that have been around long enough to measure real outcomes.

Without the resources to pay for tuition in ways that maintain the health of a state’s institutions of
higher learning, the promise is empty. So, in this briefing book, we provide information on different
funding approaches, as well as paths states can take to meet their specific needs.

We, at the Campaign for Free College Tuition, are available to help in any way we can. CFCT is a
bipartisan 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to making college tuition free in all fifty states.

Chapter I —
States Taking the Lead in Making Colleges
Tuition Free: Current State Programs

Tennessee Promise
The Tennessee Promise is both a scholarship and mentoring program focused on increasing the
number of students attending college in Tennessee. It provides students a last-dollar scholarship,
meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE
scholarship, or state student assistance funds. Students may use the scholarship at any of the state’s
13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institution offering an
associate degree program.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
A $300 million endowment that was established from surplus lottery funds.

High school seniors, beginning with the class of 2015, who graduate from an eligible Tennessee high
school, complete a Tennessee home school program, or, prior to their 19th birthday, obtain a GED or
HiSET diploma. Applicants must be able to complete the FAFSA, qualify for in-state tuition, and
possess a valid Social Security number. Additionally, they must attend mandatory meetings and
participate in a mentoring program. In college, students must attend full-time, continue to participate
in the mentoring program, and perform 8 hours of community service prior to each term the award is

Legislative Fiscal Note

Endowment Fund Information

Tennessee Reconnect
Tennessee Reconnect is a last dollar scholarship for adults to attend a community or technical college
tuition-free. It was established in its present form in 2017 as an extension of Governor Bill Haslam’s
Drive to 55 initiative, which seeks to equip 55% of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or
certificate by the year 2025.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
The Lottery for Education Account. Officials expect the Reconnect scholarship will cost the state $10
million annually.

To be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, the student must:
● Not already have an associate or bachelor’s degree;

● Have been a Tennessee resident for at least one year preceding the date of application for the

● Complete the FAFSA and be deemed an independent student;

● Be admitted to an eligible institution and enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part
time (6 semester hours) beginning with the 2018-19 year; and

● Participate in an advising program approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

Legislative Fiscal Note

New York Excelsior Scholarship
With the passage of the FY 2018 State Budget, New York is now home to the Excelsior Scholarship.
Under this program, full-time students with an income or family income of up to $125,000 per year
qualify to attend college tuition-free at all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges in New York
State. The Excelsior Scholarship was phased in over three years. The income eligibility was raised in
steps so that in 2019 and beyond, students with a family income of $125,000 or less are eligible. The
income calculation is based on federal adjusted gross income, as reported on federal income tax
forms, for the student and their family.

The Excelsior Scholarship is designed to encourage on-time degree completion. Students must
average 30 credits per year (including Summer and January semesters) to receive the funding.
However, there is some built-in flexibility for students facing certain hardships. After graduation,
Excelsior Scholarship recipients are required to reside in New York State for the same number of years
in which they received the award, or it will be converted into a loan. The student does not need to be
employed during this period, however they cannot be employed in another state.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
The state budget. It was estimated to cost $87 million in its first year and $163 million by year three.

All applicants must:
● Be a resident of NYS and have resided in NYS for 12 continuous months prior to the beginning
of the term;

● Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen;

● Have either graduated from high school in the United States, earned a high school
equivalency diploma, or passed a federally approved "Ability to Benefit" test, as defined by
the Commissioner of the State Education Department;

● Have a combined federal adjusted gross income of $100,000 or less in 2017 (income limits rise
to $125,000 in 2019 when the program is fully phased in);

● Be pursuing an undergraduate degree at a SUNY or CUNY college, including community

colleges and the statutory colleges at Cornell University and Alfred University;

● Be enrolled in at least 12 credits per term and complete at least 30 credits each year
(successively), applicable toward his or her degree program;

● If attended college prior to the 2017-18 academic year, have earned at least 30 credits each
year (successively), applicable toward his or her degree program prior to applying for an
Excelsior Scholarship;

● Be in a non-default status on a student loan made under any NYS or federal education loan
program or on the repayment of any NYS award;

● Be in compliance with the terms of the service condition(s) imposed by a NYS award that you
have previously received; and

● Execute a Contract agreeing to reside in NYS for the length of time the award was received,
and, if employed during such time, be employed in NYS.

Rhode Island’s Promise

Rhode Island’s Promise was enacted in 2017 and allows students to enroll right out of high school at
the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) tuition-free. It provides a last dollar scholarship for up
to two academic years and can be applied to any associate degree program at CCRI. It may not be
used for certificate or non-credit programs.

Recipients of the Promise commit to live, work, or continue their education in Rhode Island after
graduation. However, the program does not contain a penalty for leaving the state.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
A $2.75 million appropriation is included in the state’s FY 2018 budget.

All recipients must:
● Be Rhode Island residents that qualify for in-state tuition and fees;

● Be 2017 high school graduates (public, private or homeschooled), or 2017 GED recipients, who
were younger than 19 years of age when they completed high school or the GED; and

● Be admitted to CCRI and enroll in the semester immediately following high school graduation.

Additionally, students need to take the following steps to receive/maintain the Promise:
● Apply to CCRI and register for a full-time fall course load;

● Fill out the FAFSA;

● Get an official, final high school or GED transcript from their high school or GED program and
submit it to the Office of Enrollment Services at any CCRI campus;

● Fill out the Rhode Island Promise Attestation form;

● Earn at least 30 credits each college academic year;

● Enroll each semester for two years; and

● Maintain at least a 2.5 GPA in college.

Oregon Promise
The Oregon Promise is a state grant program that covers some or all of the tuition at an Oregon
community college. Eligible recipients are recent Oregon high school graduates and GED recipients
who enroll in an Oregon community college within six months of graduation. For full-time students,
awards range from $1,000 to $3,687 (in 2018-19), depending on financial need and other state and
federal grants awards. The college will automatically deduct a $50 co-pay from the award each term.

Due to budget constraints, Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission limited Oregon
Promise Grant eligibility to students based on their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in 2017-18. For
the 2018-19 academic year, the HECC was able to remove this temporary EFC limit and fund all eligible
recipients as was originally contemplated in the 2015 legislation that established the program. The
HECC however has been granted authority by the Oregon Legislature in 2017 (Senate Bill 1032) to
apply an Expected Family Contribution limit as necessary when state funding levels are insufficient for
this program.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
General Fund appropriation. The 2017-19 budget for the Oregon Promise program is just under $40
million, a $26.8 million increase in the total appropriation for 2015-17. According to a Legislative Fiscal
Office Summary, “this growth is the combination of rolling up the program to a full 24 months,
additional class cohorts as the program continues, and the greater than anticipated number of
participants in the program.”

Applicants must meet all of the following criteria:
● Complete an Oregon Promise Grant Application;

● Be a recent Oregon high school graduate or GED recipient;

● Document a 2.5 cumulative high school GPA or higher, or a GED score of 145 or higher on each

● Enroll at least half-time at an Oregon community college within 6 months of high school
graduation or GED completion;

● Be an Oregon resident for at least 12 months prior to enrolling in community college; and

● Have filed a FAFSA or ORSAA application and listed at least one Oregon community college.

Legislative Budget Report

Arkansas Future Grant

This state funded grant available on a first-come, first-serve basis provides two years of tuition and
fees at an Arkansas community or technical college to any student who enrolls in a high demand field
of study. It contains reforms designed to enhance student accountability and success. All grant
recipients are required to participate in both mentoring and community service programs (15 hours of
community service per semester is required). Additionally, upon graduation, the student must work
full-time in Arkansas for a minimum of three years. If a student does not complete his or her
commitment, the grant will be converted to a loan for repayment to the State of Arkansas.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
Repurposing $8.2 million in general revenue funds by canceling the Workforce Improvement Grant
and the Higher Education Opportunities Grant.

All applicants must:
● Have either graduated from an Arkansas public school, private school, home school or
received a high school equivalency diploma approved by the Department of Career Education;
or verify that he or she has resided within the state for the three (3) years immediately
preceding application and has either: graduated from an out-of-state high school, private
school, home school or received a high school equivalency diploma approved by another

● Be enrolled part-time or full-time at an approved institution of higher education in a program

of study that leads to an associate degree or a certification in a STEM or regional high demand
field; and

● Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

California College Promise

Governor Jerry Brown’s signature of AB 19 in October 2017 laid the groundwork for the California
College Promise. The legislature subsequently approved $46 million to allow community college
districts to choose whether they want to waive one-year of fees and tuition for first time, full-time
students, or make use of program funding in other ways that meet the goals of the legislation to lower
the financial burden of attending community college for those students. California’s FY 2019-20
budget provided funds to extend the California College Promise to a second academic year.

The Promise builds on the California College Promise Grant, formerly the Board of Governors Fee
Waiver, which provided over one million low income students with tuition/fee free
community college.

In addition to aiding students with tuition/fees at participating community colleges, the Promise aims
to promote successful outcomes. To this end, participating community colleges must partner with

one or more local educational agencies (LEAs) to establish an Early Commitment to College Program
that will provide students, and their families, assistance in learning about postsecondary
opportunities, completing college prep courses, and applying for college and financial aid.

Additionally, to be eligible for state support for free tuition for first-time full-time students, a
community college must participate in the Guided Pathways Grant Program and in the Federal
student loan program.

Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
$46 million of Proposition 98 funds were appropriated in the FY 2018-19 budget. These funds are
reserved for K-12 education and community colleges. California’s FY 2019-20 budget (AB 74) – enacted
in June 2019 – provided over $45.5 million to support extending the California College Promise to a
second academic year.

AB 19 specifies the following criteria: completion of a FAFSA; specific enrollment requirements (i.e.
first-time, full-time); and attendance at California community college district that partners with a
school district or four-year public university.

Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative

The Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) was created in 2014 with the goal of increasing
the attainment of postsecondary credentials and degrees for underserved students in Colorado. The
project addresses this challenge by focusing on accessibility and affordability, matching community
dollars to fund student support organizations and scholarship programs across the state. To improve
accessibility, COSI funds programs that will help prepare students for postsecondary education, as
well as support them through completion. To improve affordability, COSI provides tuition support to
students through matching funds for community scholarships. These approaches together work to
create a strong network of support for students throughout the state as they move to and through
postsecondary credentials.

In the first five years, $47 million was awarded (leveraging $28 million in additional local and private
dollars) to serve more than 75,000 students across its programs. For scholarships, COSI provides
approximately $7 million annually in Matching Student Scholarship Grants to eligible counties,

institutions of higher education, and community workforce programs. These partnering organizations
leverage state funds 1:1 to increase the amount of scholarship giving available for postsecondary
students in Colorado. In total, they provide approximately 6,000 students with scholarships annually.

Internal studies using the latest available data show most COSI students enrolled in the Community
Partner Program—87%—persist in their education path, 15 percentage points higher than peers of
similar demographic groups. Students who receive COSI scholarships perform even better: 89%
continue on in their second and third years, outpacing their non-COSI counterparts by 25 percentage


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
In 2014, the Colorado legislature committed $35 million, and now provides an annual
appropriation from the general fund of $7 million.

Recipients of COSI funds must be students:
● Whose household incomes are determined to be between 0 and 100% or between 100 and
250% of the maximum permissible income for the purpose of determining eligibility for PELL

● Participating in a rigor-based student success program;

● Classified as Colorado residents for tuition purposes (includes ASSET students); and

● Attending public vocational schools, community colleges, four-year institutions of higher

education, and research institutions in Colorado.

Delaware Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) Scholarship

The Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) Scholarship, established in 2005, provides last dollar
tuition scholarships to qualified, in-state high school graduates attending Delaware Technical
Community College or the University of Delaware’s Associate in Arts program. A similar program – the

Inspire Scholarship – is available for students attending Delaware State University. Between 2007 and
2016, approximately 16,000 Delawareans received SEED scholarships.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
The FY 2018 operating budget contained $5.6 million for SEED and $1.6 million for Inspire.

All SEED applicants must:
● Be a new first-year student and attend classes full-time (12 credits or more) no later than the
fall semester immediately after the student’s graduation from a Delaware public or non-public
high school;

● Satisfy Delaware residency requirements and be enrolled full-time on a degree-seeking basis;

● Have graduated from a Delaware public or non-public high school with a minimum cumulative
average of either 80 or higher on a 100 point scale, a grade point average (GPA) of 2.5 or higher
on a 4.0 scale as indicated on the student's official high school transcript, or a letter grade of
C+. The equivalency standards for Delaware home-schooled students shall be a complete
home schooled academic transcript, or a combined score of 1350 on the new SAT or a
composite ACT score of at least 19;

● Have not been convicted of any felony;

● Satisfy admission standards as determined by Delaware Tech or the University of Delaware

and enroll in an associate degree program;

● Complete a FAFSA and accept all forms of financial aid for which the student is eligible;

● New, first–year students must complete the Application for Admission by the priority
application date of April 1 in order to be considered for SEED; and

● Maintain a 2.5 cumulative college grade point average (GPA) at the end of each academic year.

Kentucky Work Ready Scholarship
The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship is a last-dollar scholarship for Kentuckians who have not yet
earned an associate degree. Applicants must be accepted or enrolled in a qualifying certificate and
diploma program in health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business
services/IT, and construction. The Scholarship limits the maximum award to the in-state tuition and
fees rate for full-time enrollment at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.


Enacting Executive Order

Funding Source
The state budget contains $15.9 million in funding for the 2017-18 school year.

All applicants must:
● Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident;

● Be a Kentucky resident;

● Be a high school graduate or be enrolled in or have completed a General Educational

Development (GED) Program;

● Have not earned an associate's or higher degree;

● Be enrolled, or accepted for enrollment, at an eligible postsecondary institution in an

approved program of study that leads to an industry recognized certificate or diploma in a
high-demand workforce sector; and

● Not be in default on any obligation to KHEAA.

In college, recipients must earn a grade point average of 2.0 or higher each semester the scholarship is
received in order to be eligible for the following semester.

Eligibility expires when the first of the following conditions is met:

● Receipt of scholarship funding for the equivalent of four academic terms;

● Receipt of the scholarship for 32 credit hours of enrollment; or

● Receipt of a first associate degree.

Maryland Community College Promise
In the final hour of the 2018 legislative session, Maryland legislators agreed to authorize and fund a
$15 million community college Promise program, which will begin awarding last-dollar scholarship in
the Fall of 2019. It was a compromise between the Senate, which passed a bill to create a $30 million
program, and the House, which wanted to start with only $10 million.

The enacting legislation limits the annual scholarship award to $5,000 per recipient – which is enough
to make most community colleges in the state tuition free for eligible students – or actual tuition,
whichever is less.

Recipients meeting specified eligibility criteria are eligible for up to three years of awards but must
sign an agreement to work in Maryland for at least one year for each year that they received a
scholarship, or the grant converts to a loan.

If the state’s appropriation is insufficient, initial awards will be prioritized to students with the
greatest financial need. Priority for awards in subsequent years will be given to prior year recipients
who remain eligible for the program.

Enacting Legislation

Per the enacted legislation, a student must:
● Apply annually to Maryland Higher Education Commission;

● Enroll within 2 years of high school graduation or completion of a GED in Maryland;

● Have earned a 2.3 minimum high school GPA;

● Have an annual adjusted gross income of not more than $100,000 if the applicant is single or
resides in a single-parent household, or $150,000 if applicant is married or resides in a two-
parent household;

● Be eligible for in-state tuition and complete the FAFSA or an application for state financial aid;

● Sign an agreement to maintain Maryland residency and employment in the State for at least
one-year post-college for each year that the scholarship was awarded; and

● Maintain a 2.5 GPA in college.

Additional requirements may be subsequently announced as the Maryland Higher Education
Commission is authorized to adopt regulations to administer the Promise.

Michigan Promise Zones

A few years after the Kalamazoo Promise awarded its first scholarships, Michigan’s legislature and
then Governor Jennifer Granholm enacted the Michigan Promise Zone Authority Act. The measure
establishes “Promise Zones,” which are public-private partnerships committed to ensuring that every
child in a community has a tuition-free path to at least an associate degree, in economically distressed

In November 2017, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation authorizing the state to certify
up to 15 Promise Zones – a 50% increase from the previous 10.

Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
After two years of operation through private funding, a Promise Zone can receive half the growth in
the State Education Tax (SET) within their boundaries. This Tax Increment Financing calculates
capture from a base year that is the year before the Promise Zone begins awarding scholarships.

The Promise Zone Authority Act gives each individual Promise Zone considerable authority to
establish eligibility criteria so long as they provide high school graduates a tuition-free path to at least
an associate degree from one or more post-secondary institutions.

The Lansing Promise, for example, requires students to:

● Attend, for four or more consecutive years, and graduate from a public or non-public school
located within the boundaries of the Lansing School District (LSD); or

● Attend, for eight or more consecutive years, a public or non-public school located within the
boundaries of the LSD and obtain a GED before age 20;

● Be admitted to and enroll in Lansing Community College or Michigan State University; and

● Meet eligibility requirements to apply for federal student aid and complete the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year.

Legislative Fiscal Analysis

Additional Information

Missouri A+ Scholarship Program

The program provides last-dollar funds to eligible graduates of A+ designated high schools attending
participating public community college or vocational/technical school, or certain private two-year
vocational/technical schools. The tuition amount eligible for reimbursement is capped at the
published standard per credit hour tuition rate charged by State Technical College of Missouri. For the
2019-2020 academic year, the maximum rate is $175.25 per credit hour or $4.70 per clock-hour.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
The program is funded from both General Revenue and Lottery Proceeds. For FY 2019, the total
appropriation was $43 million, which includes increased funds to allow students who graduate from
private high schools to participate in the program. In FY 2018, A+ Program awards averaged $2,662 for
over 12,500 students.

All applicants must:
● Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident;

● Have a written agreement between the student and their high school prior to graduation;

● Attend a designated A+ high school for any three of the four years prior to graduation;

● Graduate HS with an overall grade point average of 2.5 or higher;

● Have at least a 95% attendance record overall for grades 9-12;

● Perform at least 50 hours of unpaid tutoring or mentoring, of which up to 25% may include job

● Maintain a record of good citizenship and avoid the unlawful use of drugs and/or alcohol;

● Beginning with the high school senior class of 2015, have achieved a score of proficient or
advanced on the Algebra I end of course exam, or a higher level DESE approved end-of-course
exam in the field of mathematics;

● Complete a FAFSA; and

● Enroll and attend full-time at a participating public community college or vocational/technical

school, or private two-year vocational/technical school.

Post-secondary students must also maintain satisfactory academic progress – specifically, a 2.0 GPA
at the end of the initial fall semester, and a 2.5 minimum GPA thereafter.

Nevada Promise Scholarship

The Nevada Promise is a scholarship and mentoring program which aims to make a college education
accessible and affordable. Established by the Nevada Legislature in 2017, the Nevada Promise
provides last-dollar scholarships to eligible Nevada students attending any of the state’s four
community colleges: College of Southern Nevada, Great Basin College, Truckee Meadows Community
College, or Western Nevada College.

The Nevada Promise, as enacted, can provide for up to three years of registration fees (Nevada does
not charge tuition to state residents), and other mandatory fees, to eligible students not covered by
other aid, including the federal Pell Grant, the federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant
(FSEOG), the Silver State Opportunity Grant (SSOG), and the Governor Guinn Millennium Scholarship

The enacting legislation only funded the Nevada Promise for the high school graduating class of 2018.
However, in June 2018, the state’s Board of Regents approved a $3 million legislative budget request
to cover the cost of the Nevada Promise Scholarship over the next two fiscal years.

All four Nevada community colleges agreed to participate in the Nevada Promise Scholarship
program. Pursuant to the enacting legislation, they were required to establish a mentoring program
for students who intend to participate in the Promise without receiving additional state funds, or
partner with non-profit organizations or other government entities to provide mentoring services.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
The enacting legislation (SB 391) contained a $3.5 million appropriation.

A student must:
● Be classified as a Nevada resident for tuition purposes by the institution where they plan to
receive the NV Promise Scholarship;

● Before the beginning of their first fall semester have earned one of the following during the
preceding academic year:

o High school diploma from a public or private high school located in Nevada;

o High school diploma from a public high school in a county of another state that
borders Nevada and accepts Nevada residents; or

o General Equivalency Diploma (GED) or equivalent document.

● Be less than 20 years of age when initially receiving the scholarship;

● Not have earned a prior associate or bachelor’s degree;

● Not be in default on any federal student loan;

● Not owe a refund to any federal student aid program;

● Meet all applicable deadlines including completing the Nevada Promise Application no later
than 11:59 p.m. on October 31, 2019 for the Fall 2020 award year;

● Attend a mandatory training meeting offered by the college;

● Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA);

o Note: Students otherwise eligible for a Promise Scholarship and who are not eligible to
complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (non-FAFSA eligible student) may
be eligible for a Promise Scholarship if the student is eligible for financial aid through an
alternative determination for financial aid.

● Meet at least once with their mentor (assigned by the college);

● Complete at least 8 hours of eligible community service; and

● Enroll in a minimum of 12 semester credit hours in an associate degree program, a bachelor's
degree program or a certificate of achievement program for each semester of the school year
immediately following the school year in which the student graduates from high school.

New Jersey Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG)

New Jersey’s FY 2018-19 budget contained $20 million to establish a pilot program awarding last-
dollar scholarships to students from families with less than $45,000 in adjusted gross income to
attend county (community) colleges. An additional $5 million was allocated to the Secretary of Higher
Education in order to provide planning grants to county colleges seeking to provide tuition-free
college to eligible students. Pursuant to the authorizing legislation, the grants “shall include but not
be limited to goals and strategies for capacity building, increasing student completion, reducing
financial burdens on students, and estimates and plans by county colleges for adapting to increased

The FY 2019-20 budget increased the family income limit to $65,000. Awards to students attending 13
county colleges began for the Spring 2019 semester. Governor Phil Murphy subsequently expanded
the program to include all 19 county colleges in the state.


Enacting Legislation

Community College Opportunity Grants are available to students who meet the following eligibility
● Enrolled in at least six (6) credits per semester at any community college during Academic
Year 2019-2020

● Does not have a prior college degree

● Completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the New Jersey Alternative
Financial Aid Application prior to September 15, 2019

● Make satisfactory academic progress

● Have a total household adjusted gross income between $0 - $65,000

New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship Program
The Legislative Lottery Scholarship pays a portion of tuition (for up to undergraduate degree) for
students who have obtained New Mexico diploma of excellence or high school equivalency credential
recipients who immediately attend a New Mexico public or tribal college or university.

The initial scholarship begins with the second semester of enrollment at a postsecondary institution
and continues for that academic year. It does not cover student fees or course materials.

Due to a revenue shortfall, the scholarship covered just 60% of sector average tuition rates in 2017-18,
compared with 90% the year before. A one-time appropriation of $4 million and a $4 million surplus
due to lower student demand in 2017-18 has allowed the 2018-19 scholarship value to rise to $2,294
per semester at research institutions, such as the University of New Mexico where base-tuition for in-
state students is $2,709 per semester.

At community colleges, the scholarship will pay $581 per semester for the 2018-19 academic year. The
base 2018-19 in-state tuition at Central New Mexico Community College – the state’s largest – is $660
per semester for full-time students.

A number of New Mexico colleges offer Bridge Scholarships to first-time freshman in the process of
qualifying for the Legislative Lottery Scholarship. Award amounts can cover actual tuition charges and
registration fees for the Lottery Qualifying Term. Funding for these scholarships is established by the
board of regents of each institution.

The links below provides additional information:



In September of 2019, New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham’s announced a proposal to make all of
New Mexico’s public colleges and universities tuition-free for eligible in-state resident students. The
New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship will build on the Legislative Lottery Scholarship and use similar

eligibility requirements. Additionally, the program’s community college component will provide
benefits for returning adult learners as well as high school graduates. 1


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
Lottery revenues.

A student must:
● Be a resident of New Mexico;

● Have graduated from a NM public, accredited private school or obtained a high school
equivalency credential in New Mexico;

● Enroll in and complete 15 credit hours per semester at a four-year New Mexico public

● Enroll in and complete 12 credit hours per semester at a two-year New Mexico public
community college;

● Enroll in college within sixteen months of receiving a high school diploma or receipt of a New
Mexico high school equivalency credential (such as NM GED or HiSET); and

● Maintain at least a cumulative GPA of 2.5.

Oklahoma Promise
Oklahoma’s Promise was originally enacted in 1992 as the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access
Program. The program, which is administered by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education,
allows students whose families earn $55,000 or less annually, and who meet academic and conduct
requirements to earn a last dollar college tuition scholarship.


Oklahoma’s Promise will pay up to the full-tuition at an Oklahoma public two-year college or four-
year university. Students wishing to enroll at an accredited Oklahoma private college or university, or
in a program that does not qualify for federal financial aid at a public career technology center are
eligible for partial scholarships. The scholarship amount does not cover fees, books, supplies, or room
and board.

High school students apply for the Oklahoma Promise in the eighth, ninth or 10th grade. The $55,000
family income limit is applied when the student fills out the Promise application and is based on the
federal adjusted gross income (AGI) of the student’s parents. However, the federal adjusted gross
income (AGI) of the student's parents (or the income of the student if the student is officially
determined to be financially independent of their parents) can be up to $100,000 when the student
enrolls in college. Oklahoma Promise students are required to complete a FAFSA each year in college
to determine whether adjusted gross income exceeds $100,000.

The family income limit at the time of application was increased from $50,000 to $55,000 in the 2017-
2018 academic year. Therefore, the first high school graduates at the higher income limit will be the
class of 2020. The increase in the income limit is projected to increase participation in the program by
up to 10%. Another increase in the income limit to $60,000 is scheduled to begin with applicants in
2021-2022. High school students must complete a specific college preparatory curriculum that meets
Oklahoma Academic standards in order to receive an Oklahoma’s Promise Scholarship. According to
state data, 73.6% of the high school class of 2018 completed the program’s high school requirements.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
Legislation creating a dedicated funding process for Oklahoma's Promise was enacted in 2007. This
law allows the program to be funded "off the top" from the state's General Revenue Fund each year.
The program cost $72.2 million to provide 17,361 scholarships in the 2017-18 academic year.

Applicants must be:
● Oklahoma residents and a U.S. citizen or lawfully present in the United States.

● 8th-, 9th- or 10th-grade students (homeschooled students must be age 13, 14 or 15).

● Students whose parents’ federal adjusted gross income for the most recent federal tax year
does not exceed $55,000.

● Submit an Oklahoma’s Promise application by June 30

● In high school, the student must:

● Graduate from high school and complete all high school requirements by the time of

● Achieve at least a 2.50 cumulative GPA for all coursework attempted in grades 9 through 12.

● Complete the 17-unit college prep core curriculum and achieve at least a 2.50 cumulative GPA
for the 17-unit core curriculum. The curriculum must be strictly followed, and students should
be aware that some courses that meet high school graduation requirements do not meet
Oklahoma’s Promise requirements.

● Attend school regularly and do homework.

● Refrain from substance abuse.

● Refrain from criminal or delinquent acts.

● Have school work and school records reviewed by an appropriate school official.

● Provide information to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education or the State Board of
Education, if requested.

● Be contacted by the OKPromise office with information relevant to my application or the

program when contact information is provided on the application.

● Apply for other financial aid during the senior year of high school.

● Participate in program activities.

● College students must:

● Complete the FAFSA annually to determine that federal adjusted gross income does not
exceed $100,000.

● Meet the regular admission standards for first-time entering students at the college or
university to which the student applies.

● Start taking college courses within three years after graduating high school.

● Meet the college’s Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) policy requirements for eligibility to
receive federal financial aid.

● Oklahoma’s Promise Scholarship awards:

● May not be used for non-credit remedial courses.

● Are limited to no more than five consecutive years after enrolling in college.

● May not be used for courses taken after completion of the requirements for a bachelor’s

● May not be used to complete more than 129 semester credit hours, unless the student’s
degree program requires more than 129 hours.

● Will be permanently lost if the student is suspended from college for more than one semester
for conduct reasons.

WV Invests Grant Program

WV Invests Grant Program, enacted in March 2019, will provide last dollar scholarships making
eligible certificate and associate degree programs at community and technical colleges tuition free.
The state’s Department of Commerce will determine the programs based on workforce needs.
Associate degree programs at public baccalaureate institutions are also eligible, but the grant
amounts are limited to the average cost of tuition and mandatory fee of the community and technical

Beginning with the 2021 Fiscal Year, community and technical colleges or public baccalaureate
institutions that form one or more partnerships with public secondary schools to establish Advanced
Career Education (ACE) programs and pathways will have priority in offering WV Invest Grant eligible
programs. Such partnerships feature “defined pathways” that start when a student is in secondary
school and ultimately lead to an advanced certification or associate degree.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
The estimated costs associated with the WV Invests Grant Program are approximately $7.5 million its
first-year. The enacting legislation establishes a special revenue account – the WV Invests Fund – to
fund the grants. The fund may consist of:
1. All appropriations by the Legislature for the WV Invests Fund;

2. Any gifts, grants, or contributions received for the WV Invests Fund; and

3. All interest or other income earned from investment of the WV Invests Funds.

To be eligible for a WV Invests Grant, applicants must:
● Be a citizen or legal resident of the United States and have been a resident of West Virginia for
at least one year immediately preceding the date of application for a grant;

● Complete a FAFSA and a WV Invests Grant application;

● Have completed a secondary education program in a public, private, or home school;

● Have not previously received a postsecondary degree;

● Be at least 18 years of age. However, individuals younger than 18 years of age may qualify for
the grant upon completion of a secondary education program;

● Meet the admission requirements of and be admitted into an eligible postsecondary


● Enroll in an eligible postsecondary program for at least six credit hours per semester;

● Satisfactorily pass a drug test administered by the eligible institution prior to the start of each
semester. The applicant is responsible for the cost of the drug test;

● Agree to reside in West Virginia for the two years following obtainment of the degree or
certificate for which the grant or grants were awarded. Violation of this agreement would
require repayment of the awards with interest. The Act has exemptions for individuals serving
in the armed services or attending an out-of-state postsecondary intuition at least half-time;

● Satisfactorily meet any additional qualifications of enrollment, academic promise, or

achievement established by the state’s Council for Community and Technical College
Education through rule.

Grants may be renewed until the course of study is completed so long as the student meets the
following criteria:

● Maintenance of satisfactory academic standing, including a 2.0 cumulative grade point

average, and adequate progress towards completion of the eligible postsecondary program;

● Completion of at least eight hours of unpaid community service during the time of study; and

● Satisfaction of any additional eligibility criteria established by rule.

Wyoming Hathaway Scholarship
The scholarship has its roots in Governor Stanley Hathaway’s 1974 decision to create the state of
Wyoming Permanent Mineral Trust Fund. Nearly two decades later, legislators created a scholarship
fund that rewards eligible Wyoming students with both merit- and need-based scholarships to attend
the University of Wyoming or a Wyoming community college.

Hathaway offers four individual scholarships, and a need-based scholarship that can supplement
these merit-based awards. They include:
● Honors (min 3.5 GPA/25 ACT): $1,680 per semester

● Performance (min 3.0 GPA/21 ACT): $1,260 per semester

● Opportunity (min 2.5 GPA/19 ACT): $840 per semester

● Provisional Opportunity (min 2.5 GPA/17 ACT): $840 per semester

In-state tuition at a Wyoming community college ranges from $2,424 to $3,144 per year.


Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
A $400 million permanent endowment.

Minimum eligibility includes a 2.5 HS GPA, completion of Hathaway approved HS courses, and a score
of 17 on the ACT. Continued eligibility for college students requires continuous enrollment, meeting
satisfactory academic progress criteria, and maintaining a minimum GPA or 2.25 or 2.5 depending
upon a recipient’s scholarship level.

Additional eligibility information can be found at:



Connecticut Debt-Free Community College Program

Connecticut adopted a biennial budget in June 2019 that will allow eligible first-time, full-time
students to attend a community or technical college tuition-free. Beginning in the Fall of 2020, the
program will provide a “middle dollar” scholarship to qualified residents who fill out FAFSA and take
at least 12 credit hours each year. If the student’s federal Pell Grant and/or state Roberta B. Willis
Need-Merit Scholarship fully covers tuition, they will still get a $250 per semester grant to spend on
other costs of attending college.

Funding for this program is slated to come from online lottery sales. The enacting legislation requires
Governor Ned Lamont (D) to consult with the Connecticut Lottery Corporation and other state officials
and report to the legislature by February 5, 2020 on the feasibility of allowing online lottery sales
through a website, online service, or mobile application. If Governor Lamond finds that online lottery
sales are not feasible, he is required to propose budget amendments to cover the cost of the program.

Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
According to the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, the program is anticipated to cost up to $8.1
million – including $2 million in implementation and marketing – in FY 2021. The revenue to pay for
this new program is expected to come from online lottery sales which have not yet been authorized.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis anticipates that the higher enrollment resulting from free community
college will generate between $2.1 million and $7.7 million in additional tuition and fees. Connecticut
currently has underutilized community college capacity that may allow the newly enacted free college
tuition program to largely pay for itself.

To be eligible for Connecticut’s program, applicants must:
● Be eligible for in-state tuition;

● Have graduated from a public or private Connecticut high school;

● Enroll as a first-time, full-time student (at least 12 credit-hours per semester for most
students) in a community college program leading to a certificate or degree;

● Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA);

● Accept all available financial aid that is not in the form of a federal, state, or private student

● Must maintain satisfactory academic progress (2.0 GPA) in college; and

● Be continuously enrolled at a community college with exceptions for an administratively

approved medical or personal leave of up to six month or active duty military service.

The state’s Board of Regents for Higher Education is authorized to adopt additional rules, procedures
and forms necessary to implement the debt-free community college program.

Washington College Grant

The enactment of the Workforce Education Investment Act (HB 2158) in May establishes the
Washington College Grant to replace the State Need Grant (SNG). The program will begin in Fall 2020
and allow families with incomes up to 100% of the state’s median family income to qualify per the
chart below.

Income at MFI Cap Award Proration

Income Level
for Family of 4 (% of max award)
(% of WA Median Family Income)
(2019-20 levels) Starting 2020-21

0 – 50% $46,000 100%

51 – 55% $50,500 100%

56 – 60% $55,000 70%

61 – 65% $59,500 60%

66 – 70% $64,000 50%

71 – 75% $69,000 24.5%

76 – 100% $92,000 10%

According to an official bill summary, “a maximum Washington College Grant covers tuition fees,
building fees, and services and activities fees at public institutions of higher education (both two- and

four-year). Grants for students attending private institutions are tied to the current SNG levels, with
increases per year equal to the tuition growth factor.”

Enacting Legislation

Funding Source
The enacting legislation establishes a three-tiered Workforce Education Investment surcharge to the
state’s business-and-occupations tax that is expected to raise approximately $1.6 billion over the next
five fiscal years. The legislature appropriated $160.3 for the Washington College Grant in the 2019-
2021 biennium.

Chapter II —
The Case for Making College Tuition Free

Free college tuition is a simple and effective solution to a difficult problem.

The new economic reality means higher education – whether it’s a technical credential, an associate
degree, or a bachelor’s degree – is essential to earning a good job in good times and bad.

From January 2008 to January 2013, millions of people without college degrees lost jobs and never
regained them, while all of the job gains went to the one-third of the labor force (as of January 2008)
with at least a B.A. degree. So, while total employment in January 2013 was just 341,000 less than in
January 2008, the number of Americans without a high school diploma who were employed fell by
more than 1.6 million. The number of high school graduates with jobs fell by more than 2.8 million,
and the number of working people with some college training but no B.A. degree fell by 227,000. Over
those same five years, the number of college-educated Americans with jobs increased more than 4.3

The pattern persisted after the Great Recession ended. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show
Americans with college degrees accounted for all the net new jobs created over the last decade. In
stark contrast, the number of Americans with high school diplomas or less who were employed has
fallen by nearly three million since The Great Recession. As economist Rob Shapiro points out, from
the first month of the last recession in January 2008 to December 2017,2 well into year nine of this
expansion, the number of employed Americans with high school diplomas contracted by 2,095,000,
and the number of people working without a high school diploma fell by 900,000. Through it all, the
number of college-educated Americans with jobs jumped by 11,909,000. That’s 1,253,000 more than
the total 10,656,000 net new jobs created across the economy, suggesting that college graduates are
also now claiming new jobs that used to go to people without a B.A. degree.

How much people earn has also become increasingly dependent on how much higher education they
have completed. According to a report by the Pew Research Center,3 in 2018 the median annual
earnings of full-time workers ages 25-37 was $56,000 for those with a B.A. degree, but $20,000 less for


those who attended but did not complete college, and only $31,000 for high school graduates. This
gap in earnings between those with a B.A. degree and those without began to emerge in 1980 and has
grown wider every year since.

Despite this new economic reality, in many states, postsecondary education funding per student is
less today than before the Great Recession.

Source: CBPP analysis of data from Grapevine survey and State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, 2017

As a result, in many cases, students are being asked to make up the difference through increased
tuition and fees. According to a 2018 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report, “nearly every state
has shifted costs to students over the last 25 years, with the most drastic shift occurring since the
onset of the Great Recession. In 1988, average tuition exceeded per-student state expenditures in only
two states: New Hampshire and Vermont. By 2008, that number had grown to ten states. In 2017 (the
latest year for which there is data), tuition revenue exceeded state and local funding for higher
education in 28 states. And in 15 states, tuition revenue constituted at least 60% of higher education
revenue used for instructional purposes.”

It should, however, be noted that the ongoing recovery has allowed states to modestly increase their
investment in two- and four-year colleges from recessionary lows. This increase has been especially

notable in states that have enacted free college tuition programs. The Century Foundation4 estimates
that nearly one-quarter of the growth in state public aid in the country has come from those states
that have also made some part of their higher education system tuition free. Total investment in such
programs enacted since 2014 has risen by an average of $107 million per year.

Free college tuition is sound public policy. It encourages states to invest in their higher education
institutions, helps to prepare their workforce for success in today’s economy, reduces the number of
students who have to go into debt to attend college and/or reduces the state’s average student debt,
and updates for the 21st century the country’s historic commitment to an educated citizenry. It’s also
popular—and it works.

Support for Free College is Strong and Stable

Between December 2016 and September 2019, the Campaign for Free College Tuition has conducted
multiple online surveys with PSB Research to gauge current public attitudes toward states offering
support for free college tuition to all those who are academically qualified. Support for this public
policy has been remarkably stable, despite the political turmoil the country has been experiencing at
the national level. Overall support has ranged from 71 to 81% in the 11 surveys conducted.

In our September 2019 survey, the percentage of respondents who indicated strong support was 42%
with overall support at 72%. More importantly, “strong support” of free college has exceeded 40% in
every survey conducted between April 2017 and September 2019. In all 11 surveys, a majority of
Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike have indicated support for state free college

Going inside the overall numbers, the percentage of those who strongly support the concept hit the
50% mark in November 2017 and was 42% in September 2019. The subgroups with the highest levels
of “strong support” in the September 2019 survey were African-Americans (62%), Democrats (53%),
males under age 35 (53%), females under age 35 (49%) and Hispanics (48%).


Support for state free college programs is not confined to Democratic leaning subgroups. Republican
and Independent support for state free college programs was 54% and 69%, respectively, in
September 2019. The concept also has majority support with Americans of all income levels.

Our September 2019 survey also tested the important issue of how universal to make such free college
tuition programs. It found that the highest support (43%) was for state programs “available to all
students regardless of family income.” This response was led by men under age 35 (58%) and
individuals with incomes between $75,000 and $149,999 (49%). Programs that would limit eligibility
based on family income were less popular. Just 30% of those surveyed supported programs “available
only to students who otherwise couldn't afford college,” while 27% supported programs “available to
middle class and lower income families but not wealthier ones.”

Requirements for minimal academic performance in order to be eligible for free tuition remained
among the most popular eligibility requirement of all those tested, with college and high school GPA
scores garnering 69% support and 58% support, respectively. However, limiting free college programs
to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who qualify for in-state tuition and pledging to remain drug-
free while receiving free college tuition were even more popular, garnering 63% and 62%,
respectively. Only one other qualification found favor with a majority of those responding — attending
college full-time (55%).

Accordingly, the results send a simple message to legislators and other policymakers considering
making their state’s public colleges tuition free: Make college tuition free for those who are
academically capable as universally available as you can in order to make sure the message is heard
loud and clear in kitchen table conversations of families throughout the state.

CFCT’s data further suggests there are clear opportunities for policymakers to communicate to
constituents the aspects of free college tuition programs that are most likely to appeal to particular
demographic segments. While some see the concept as a way to meet aspirational goals (colleges and
universities) there are a significant number of voters for whom the prospect of any post-high school
education, in the form of community colleges or skills/tech training is more appealing.

PSB and the Campaign for Free College Tuition has polled on specific messaging around free college
three times. In general, it found that speaking about the benefits to people – young people, students,
etc. – was more powerful than speaking about the overall value to society. But there is so much
support for the idea that almost all messages, except statements without specifics such as calling the
program a “game changer,” were compelling.

The most powerful positioning of free college – in our polls – is:

● “Lack of money shouldn’t keep qualified students from going to college, and my state
government should help.”

● “We need to make college free so young people don’t have a mountain of debt when they
finish school” was the second most believable and persuasive statement among most
demographic groups.

● One other message was almost as persuasive in all three polls with a wide swath of the adult
population: “Free college tuition will strengthen our nation by providing people the tools they
need to provide for their families.”

The New Economic Reality
It’s a simple fact that our nation’s economic success depends on a highly educated and skilled
workforce. According to a June 2016 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce
report entitled America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots, “there has been a clear shift
in job creation since the second half of the 20th century toward industries that employ a high share of
workers with post-secondary attainment, such as healthcare services, consulting and business
services, financial services, education services, and government services.5 These industries accounted
for 28% of the workforce in 1947; they now account for 46% of the workforce.”

The need for a state to increase its skilled workforce by altering the current outcomes without free
college tuition was illustrated by Mike Krause, the former Executive Director of the Tennessee Promise
in the Office of Governor Haslam and current Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education
Committee, at the Campaign for Free College Tuition Southern Summit on College Affordability in the
spring of 2016. He noted that Tennessee was 43rd in the nation in 2015 in terms of education
attainment by state and showed longitudinal data from the 2007 cohort of high school freshman
indicating that 30% of them entered the workforce directly after high school. This subgroup had a
$9,030 annual income and only a 16% chance of earning above the minimum wage. The Tennessee
Promise – which incorporates mentorship, a last dollar scholarship to a two-year community or
technical college, and a framework focused on college success – advanced with overwhelming
support through a Republican-controlled legislature to help change these outcomes for a state
seeking to be a national leader in advanced manufacturing.


Price of College can be a Barrier to Educational Attainment
According to a New America 2019 survey,6 “only half of Americans think education after high school is
affordable. Over four out of five Americans believe that federal and state government should spend
more taxpayer dollars on education after high school to make it more affordable.” For lower and even
middle-class families who see higher education as a key to improving the lives of their children, the
money required to pay for tuition is seen as a huge barrier.

According to a 2015 survey of college freshmen conducted by UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional

Research Program, 84.1% of Pell Grant recipients expressed concerns about their ability to pay for
college compared to just 56.7% of students not receiving Pell Grants.7 The 2017 version of the survey
found a record 12.2% of freshmen felt they could not afford their first-choice institution, which is a
30% increase from when the question was first asked in 2004 (9.4%).8

Student Loan Debt

About two-thirds (65%) of college seniors who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges in
2018 had student loan debt, according to a report by the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for
College Access & Success (TICAS).9 These borrowers owed an average of $29,200. However, there has
been a $500 decrease in average student borrowing between 2012 and 2016 as state spending has
partially rebounded during this period.

Research suggests that student loan debt impacts Americans in the following ways:

● Career Choice. Studies suggest that student loan debt drives graduates away from low-
paying and public-sector jobs. A 2015 survey conducted by the American Student Assistance®
(ASA) found 30% of respondents indicated that “student loan debt was the deciding factor, or
had considerable impact, on their choice of career field.”10

● Retirement Savings. 59% of those responding to ASA’s 2017 survey said “paying off my
student loans” is a higher priority than saving for retirement.11


● Home Ownership. The Federal Reserve of New York reported in 2017 that “the increase in the
Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI)of college and student debt that our
sample cohorts experienced from 2001 to 2009 is able to explain around 11% to 35% of the
measured 7.7 percentage point drop in the rate of age 28 to 30 homeownership in the U.S.
from 2007 to 2015.”12

● Small Business Formation. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found a significant and
economically meaningful negative correlation between changes in student loan debt and net
business formation for those firms with one to four employees.13 This is important because
these small businesses depend mostly on personal debt to finance new businesses. Based on
the researcher’s model, “student debt reduced the number of businesses with one to four
employees by 14% between 2000 and 2010.”

America’s Historic Commitment to Free Education

Rising student debt levels are a dangerous warning sign that our country’s historical commitment to
education as a key component of the promise of upward economic mobility is being abandoned.
America has always used the instrument of government to try and provide sufficient funds to those
willing to undertake their studies seriously to acquire the skills and knowledge they needed to engage
in economic, civic, and artistic pursuits without overburdening them financially either during their
studies or after. Until now.

In every era, beginning with the Northwest Ordinance setting aside land for one room schoolhouses,
to the institution of mandatory education through the establishment of free primary education in all
states at the time of the Civil War, the country has made educational opportunity a lynchpin of
American society. In the 20th Century, the expansion of educational opportunities continued as our
growing Industrial Age economy required workers with a high school education for our factories and
offices. Government funds in every state and community were set aside to provide a free, public high
school education for boys and girls to respond to these new demands. Later in the century, after WWII,
the GI Bill of Rights and then the Higher Education Act of 1965 were enacted to further encourage
college enrollment, thereby establishing the educational foundation for our rapidly expanding middle
class. It is only in this century that we have asked a generation, Millennials, to self-finance the
education they need, and our country needs, to be economically successful. This wrongheaded inter-
generational and economically disastrous policy needs to end before America loses its global
competitive edge for good.


America has always used government resources to provide sufficient funds to those willing and able
to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to succeed. Now it’s time to expand that concept from
primary and secondary education (K-12) to higher education to ensure we have a skilled workforce
capable of competing in the 21st Century economy.

Promise Programs Work

Tennessee Promise Outcomes

College Enrollment
● In the first year of the Tennessee Promise, enrollment in the state’s community colleges
increased by 24.7% and by 20% in their colleges of applied technology (TCAT). Overall, there
was a 10.1% increase in the number of students in the state’s institutions of higher education.

● Overall, the statewide rate of college enrollment by high school graduates increased by 4.6
percentage points, from 57.9 to 62.5 percent. This single-year increase was larger than the
past 7 years combined (2007 to 2014). Approximately 4,000 additional students entered into
some type of higher education institution in the first year of the Tennessee Promise.

● Enrollment of Tennessee Promise students at Promise-eligible institutions has increased with

each cohort, from 16,207 in Cohort 1 to 18,054 in Cohort 4.

● In the first year of Tennessee Promise, community colleges saw a substantial increase in first-
time freshmen (FTF) enrollment and universities saw a moderate decline. These trends have
largely leveled off. Compared to fall 2014, FTF enrollment in fall 2017 was up by 12.4% overall,
with the increase distributed across all sectors.

● The racial composition of students at the state’s community colleges also shifted after the
Tennessee Promise was put in place. The percentage of black students increased from 14% to
19% and the share of Hispanic students went up from 4% to 5%. The percentage of white
students enrolled in community colleges declined from 74% to 70%.

● Over time, Tennessee Promise students have become slightly more diverse in terms of race
and ethnicity, with a smaller share of white students and a larger share of African American
and Hispanic students in Cohort 3 compared to Cohort 1. Specifically, white students
comprised 77% of Cohort 1 students and 71.8% of Cohort 3 students. African American
students comprised 12% of Cohort 1 students and 13.3% of Cohort 3 students. Similarly,
Hispanic students increased from 3.5 to 4.1 percent from Cohort 1 to Cohort 3.

● The Tennessee Promise has also brought more federal dollars in support of higher education
into their state through its focus on FAFSA completion as a condition for becoming a
Tennessee Promise scholar. As a result, the FAFSA filing rate in Tennessee has increased over

the last four years (2015 – 2018) and was 79.4% in 2018. Tennessee has led the nation in FAFSA
filing since the implementation of Tennessee Promise.

College Persistence
● The Year 1 to Year 2 retention rate for the first cohort of the Tennessee Promise was 65.8%,
including the 5.1% of students who completed a credential prior to fall 2016.

● The second cohort had a slightly better 67.4% Year 1 to Year 2 retention rate, including the
4.8% of students earning a credential prior to Fall 2017.

College Completion

● The overall success rate for the first cohort of Tennessee Promise who enrolled in one of the
state’s 13 community colleges was 52.2%. This means over half the students who enrolled in
2015 earned a degree or certificate, transferred, or were still enrolled after five semesters.

● The success rate for first cohort Promise students was higher than for non-Promise peers.
After four semesters of eligibility, 14.5% of Promise students at community colleges had
earned a degree or certificate, compared to 5.5% of non-Promise students.

Note: Additional data can be obtained at:

Rhode Island Promise Outcomes

College Enrollment
● Rhode Island’s Promise has more than doubled the enrollment of full-time Community
College of Rhode Island (CCRI) students directly from high school. According to President
Megan Hughes, more than 1,400 such students enrolled in the Fall 2017 semester, compared
to 950 the previous year.

● There was an even greater percentage growth among first-time, full-time student enrollment
straight from high schools (FTFTHS) receiving Federal Pell Grants (54%). This growth brought
$3.6 million in federal Pell grants to support the first Rhode Island Promise class

● CCRI saw a 62% increase in FTFTHS students of color due to the first cohort of the Rhode
Island Promise.

● The second cohort of the Rhode Island Promise also had a positive impact on the enrollment
of both low-income students and students of color. According to Sara Enright, CCRI Vice
President for Student Affairs, first-time full-time students from low-income families more than
doubled from 527 in the fall of 2016 (before free tuition) to 1,280 in the fall of 2018. Similarly,

the enrollment numbers for first-time full-time students of color have nearly tripled from 355
in 2016 to 936 in 2018.

College Persistence
● The Fall Year 1 to the Fall Year 2 retention rate for the first Rhode Island Promise cohort was

● Rhode Island Promise also dramatically increased the number of students at the Community
College of Rhode Island on-track to graduate within a two-year time frame from 6% to 22%.

Note: Additional information on Rhode Island’s Promise can be found at:

Nevada Promise

● A UNLV survey on the implementation of the first year of the Nevada Promise Scholarship
(NPS) found that 57% of student respondents said the Promise Scholarship influenced their
decision to attend college. Hispanic NPS and first-generation NPS applicants said 69% and
68% respectively that the Promise program influenced their decision to attend college.

● Additionally, 8% of Nevada Promise applicants did not intend to go to college before they
heard about the scholarship.

Note: Additional information can be obtained at:

Chapter III —
What’s in Your Promise?

The first decision policymakers designing programs to make college tuition-free will need to address
is if and how other, existing financial aid money is used to cover the price of tuition. In a first-dollar
model, existing aid money will be made available regardless of other forms of tuition aid, particularly
federal Pell Grants. A last dollar model – which is the most-popular at the state level – will only cover
the price of tuition after students exhaust all other forms of financial aid available to them.

First Dollar Scholarships

Currently, only California offers free community college tuition that is available regardless of other
forms of financial aid. Their California College Promise program, fully funded in 2019, provides two
years of community college tuition for first-time, full-time students – defined as taking at least 12
credit hours per semester. Students are free to use federal Pell Grant and state Cal Grant funds, if
eligible, to pay for the other costs associated with going to college without impacting their eligibility
for free tuition.

Indeed, the principal argument in favor of such a “first dollar” Promise program is that it allows low
income students to use Pell Grants and state aid to address non-tuition related costs, increasing the
likelihood that recipients will be able to stay in school and have more time to focus on their studies.
According to Sara Goldrick-Rab of Temple University, non-tuition costs as a share of attendance costs
are 50% at four year institutions and over 70% at two year colleges. 14 The main argument against first
dollar scholarships is the cost of such an approach. Using data derived from the US Department of
Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS), CFCT estimates total foregone revenues,
if free college tuition was offered to all in-state undergraduates, range from $42.8 million in Delaware
to $4.96 billion in California.15


Last Dollar Scholarships
The pioneering Tennessee Promise and almost all other state free college tuition programs provide
“last dollar” scholarships. This means that the scholarship will only cover tuition and fees not covered
by Pell Grants or state aid.

The main advantage of a last dollar scholarship is that it takes advantage of existing Pell Grant and
state aid dollars to reduce the cost of the program. While tuition at Tennessee community colleges is
about $4,500 annually, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) reports that the average
Tennessee Promise award was $935 in the 2015-16 award year, $1,062 in 2016-17 and $1,035 in 2017-

Robert Kelchen, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at Seton Hall University, argues that “another
important benefit of last-dollar scholarship programs is informational. Students may be induced to
attend college simply by having better knowledge of what college costs, even if they do not receive
any additional money.”17

Last dollar scholarships are criticized for not providing benefits to some Pell-eligible students. U.S.
Representative Steve Cohen writes in The Tennessean, “the federal need-based Pell Grant provides up
to $5,700 – nearly $2,000 more than the cost of full-time tuition at a community college in
Tennessee.18 So, the neediest students will not benefit at all.” He also expressed concern that “ill-
prepared students will receive Promise and then fail to complete community college.” But as
Tennessee has demonstrated, a well designed free college tuition program can address both of these
issues and lead to greater enrollment among traditionally under-represented populations as well as
greater persistence in college attendance by those who do become “Promise scholars.”

A Middle Dollar Approach

The Oregon Promise, enacted in 2015, takes a middle ground in this debate, offering what many have
termed a “Middle Dollar” approach to the issue. Their plan provides a minimum benefit of $1,000 even
if the student’s Pell Grant scholarship would cover all their tuition costs. By providing low income
students, who have tuition covered by federal and state grants, a $1,000 grant to assist with the cost




of college outside of tuition, including books, transportation, food, and housing, the state’s program
partially addresses the criticism often leveled at last dollar programs such as Tennessee’s.

Data from the Oregon Student Aid Commission shows 6,634 students entered a community college in
fall 2016 having received an Oregon Promise grant. A 2016 survey conducted by Education Northwest
of over 1,400 Oregon high school graduates found that among those familiar with the Oregon Promise,
75% agreed, and 69% strongly agreed that the program helped them see that college could be
affordable and made them think more about going to college. 19

Due to budget constraints and a higher than projected number of applications, Oregon’s Higher
Education Coordinating Commission (HECC) limited Oregon Promise Grant eligibility to students
based on their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) in 2017-18 – the program’s second award year.
Accordingly, about 20% of Oregon Promise applicants were denied funding. While the EFC limit was
removed for the 2018-19 academic year, the HECC has the authority to apply an Expected Family
Contribution limit as necessary when state funding levels are insufficient.

Eligibility Criteria
Once this fundamental question of how the state will cover the cost of a student’s college tuition bill
has been answered, the program must then address a series of eligibility questions that often
dominate legislative debates. But, with a few exceptions, CFCT’s exclusive polling suggests these
questions have little impact on the overall support for the concept of free college tuition.

One question that does impact the level of political support for a program of free college tuition is
whether the income of a student’s family should have any impact on their eligibility to receive a
tuition free college education. There are three policy options a state can choose in developing their
free college tuition program – a universal model, or a family income cap model, or a strictly needs
based model. Each of them has its own pros and cons depending on what the overall goal of the
program is. However, in practice, which one a state chooses is usually based on the amount of money
available to fund the program and the political dynamics of the particular state legislature.


Universal Model
Universal Promise programs do not stipulate any income limit for initial scholarship eligibility. This
does not mean that these programs are without eligibility criteria. The Tennessee Promise, for
example, requires adherence to a strict application deadline, completion of the Free Application for
Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), attendance at two mandatory meetings with mentors from the local
partnering organization, the completion of eight hours of community service per semester, and full-
time enrollment in an eligible institution.

Research from the W.E. Upjohn Institute indicates that the Kalamazoo Promise, which only requires
attendance at that city’s public schools and has no income eligibility requirements, has had a 12-
percentage point positive effect on overall education attainment and 10 percentage points on the
attainment of a college degree.20 “These overall effects are larger than found in recent studies of
scholarships that are more targeted. For the merit-based West Virginia PROMISE program, Scott-
Clayton (2011) finds a 4–5 percentage point increase in bachelor’s completion, a little more than 10%
of the pre-treatment mean. For the need-based Florida Student Access Grant, Castleman and Long
(forthcoming) find bachelor’s completion effects of about 4–5 percentage points (22%). For the need-
based Wisconsin Scholars Grant, Goldrick-Rab et al. (2015) find a 4–5 percentage point (29%) increase


in bachelor’s attainment.” In general, the research shows that the more universal the program, the
greater its impact on increasing college enrollment.

Family Income Cap Model

To avoid being accused of giving away government money to families who don’t need the help, some
states have limited the benefit based on a dependent student family’s income or an independent
student’s own income. This type of eligibility requirement also helps limit the program’s cost, making
it a policy option likely to be negotiated. Surprisingly, the idea is more popular with women than men,
but its overall popularity is not as great as making the program as universal as, for example, Social

This political dynamic impacted the negotiations that established the nation’s only program for free
college tuition for four-, as well as two-year state universities, New York’s Excelsior Scholarship
program. Excelsior scholarships were first made available to students in the 2017-2018 school year to
students whose family’s adjusted gross income on their federal income tax filing for the year 2015 was
$100,000 or less. In the 2018-19 school year the limit was raised to $110,000, and in the 2019-20 school
year and every year thereafter the family income cap is set at $125,000.

The Maryland Community College Promise requires applicants to have an annual adjusted gross
income of not more than $100,000 if he/she is single or resides in a single-parent household, or
$150,000 if he/she is married or resides in a two-parent household.

Need Based Model

The main argument for a need-based model is that it targets limited resources to students with the
most need. It is a relatively common-place approach to awarding state financial aid.

According to the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, exclusively need-
based aid constituted 46% of all state aid to undergraduates, exclusively merit-based aid accounted
for 17%, with the rest, 36%, accounted for by other programs and by programs with both need and
merit components.21 Eight states (California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Illinois,
Washington, and Virginia) collectively awarded about $5.6 billion in undergraduate need-based grant
aid, accounting for about 70% of all aid of this type.

It is the move away from such need-based models in favor of a more universal approach to free
college that often causes some to be resistant to the idea of free tuition, fearing the impact such an
approach might have on those whose financial needs are greatest. However, in practice, effectively
implemented free college tuition programs can expand the number of students who enroll in college,
particularly among underrepresented minority populations. In Tennessee, the racial composition of
students at the state’s community colleges shifted after the Tennessee Promise was put in place. The


percentage of black students increased from 14% to 19% and the share of Hispanic students went up
from 4% to 5%. The percentage of white students enrolled in community colleges declined from 74%
to 70%.

Researchers Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology at Temple
University and Michelle Miller Adams, senior researcher at the W.E. Upjohn Institute, summed up the
reasons to move away from need-based models to free college tuition this way: “Free-college
programs are wise to take a new approach to college affordability. They not only seek to support low-
income students but to actually transform the systems where they are educated. By amplifying the
message that going to college is possible and valuable, and by simplifying the financial aid journey by
communicating in clear terms that tuition costs will be covered (not just ‘affordable’), they inject
elements of a college-going culture into the K-12 setting, elicit new student support resources from
schools and community members, and create incentives for colleges and universities to better serve
their students.”

State officials attempting to enact a program of free college tuition should keep in mind that the
public, overall, is much more in favor of a universal model and least supportive of a need-based model
that makes the program, in its critic’s words, “a poor people’s program.” Most Americans have come
to expect that state funded education should be provided to everyone who wants to take advantage
of it, just as K-12 education is offered universally to everyone who wants their kids to attend public

Merit Based Model

Some state programs, such as the Oregon Promise, have merit components. Both the Oregon Promise
and the Rhode Island Promise, for example, require a 2.5 high school grade point average. However,
some programs, such as Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarship program also have ACT or SAT score
requirements beyond GPA. Missouri’s long-standing A+ scholarship program even requires
demonstrated academic proficiency in math. Applicants must achieve a score of “proficient” or
“advanced” on the Algebra I exam at the end of the course or a higher level DESE approved end of
course exam in some other course in the field of advanced mathematics.

Proponents of merit-based criteria argue that such requirements ensure post-secondary readiness
and allow students to “earn” tuition-free college. But, according to Donald Heller of the University of
San Francisco, “the research has demonstrated that merit aid programs do not increase college
access for students who would otherwise be unlikely to attend college.”22 He also notes that data from
Michigan and Florida indicate that the rate at which scholarships were awarded differed greatly
among students from different racial and ethnic groups, and among students from communities of
different income levels. “In both states, students in the 20% of schools in the wealthiest communities


(as measured by the proportion of students on free- or reduced-price lunch in high school) received
scholarships at rates more than twice that of students in the poorest communities.”

Despite this research and the relative paucity of merit-based models at the state level, the single thing
any state can do to improve the public’s support for a program of free college tuition is to include
some sort of academic performance in its requirements.

Our exclusive polling shows that 58% of the public considers having a High School GPA requirement
an essential component of a free college tuition program. The problem is that free college tuition
programs are usually designed to get students who wouldn’t otherwise do so, to enroll in college. And
those who are at the margin of making that decision often have not demonstrated outstanding
academic performance in high school. Just raising the HS GPA requirement from 2.0 to 2.5, for
instance, has been estimated to eliminate one quarter of the number of eligible students from the
program. This tradeoff, between gaining increased public support by imposing a high school GPA
requirement versus getting the highest number of students to enroll in college, is one policymakers
must make with their eyes wide open.

By contrast, requiring maintenance of a minimum GPA level once enrolled in college is a feature of just
about every state free college tuition program, although the exact requirements vary between them.
Indeed, the high level of bipartisan support for free college tuition programs being provided by the
state is partially contingent upon the program being described as being for “those who are
academically qualified.” Without such a requirement, Republican support, in particular, drops off
quite a bit.

However, just as with high school GPA requirements, adding a minimum level of academic
performance in college also has an impact on the success of a program. Of course, if enrollment
without regard to graduation is the program’s purpose, this is not an issue at all. But since all state
programs seek to boost graduation rates through increased enrollments, state policymakers have to
be careful to not impose academic requirements that are either unrealistic or unsupported by other
reforms designed to provide students the support they need to succeed academically. The type of
support can vary greatly (many such ideas are described in more detail in the appendices at the end of
this briefing book), and can add to the programs cost, but should be part of policymaking discussions
from the beginning.

Other Eligibility Criteria
FAFSA Completion
Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a near universal requirement for
last dollar free college tuition programs to ensure the state doesn’t pay money for the program that
the Federal government is prepared to subsidize through Pell Grants. However, some states, including
Oregon, California, and Maryland, permit alternative applications for otherwise eligible
undocumented students.

The Tennessee Promise, and the required mentoring program that provides constant reminders to
prospective Promise scholars, has bolstered Tennessee’s FAFSA completion rate to the highest in the
nation. A joint statement by Governor Bill Haslam (R) and Tennessee Higher Education Commission
(THEC) Executive Director Mike Krause estimates that “that 70.3% of 2015-16 high school seniors in
Tennessee filed a FAFSA.”23 This is at least ten percentage points higher than FAFSA completion rates
in the other three states – New Jersey, Delaware, and Massachusetts – that rank near the top of FAFSA


Mentorship is a central component of the Tennessee Promise and many believe it is the key to its
success. In Tennessee, the non-profit tnAchieves serves as the partnering organization to Tennessee
Promise in 85 of the state’s 95 counties.

According to Governor Haslam’s office, “Tennessee Promise mentors are required to be at least 21
years old and attend a one-hour training session and two, one-hour meetings with their students over
the course of a year. On average, mentors spend about an hour a month working with three to seven
students as they transition from high school to college, reminding them of important deadlines,
encouraging them and serving as a trusted resource.” 24

A paper authored by Randy Boyd, the Founder of tnAchieves and Tennessee’s former Commissioner of
Economic and Community Development, and Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s Commissioner of Higher
Education, indicates that “tnAchieves relies heavily on its local advisory councils to provide guidance
on the best place to recruit mentors in each community. 25 In addition to assisting students through
the Tennessee Promise process, tnAchieves is building advocates for education through the
mentoring program. tnAchieves forms partnerships with the business community to engage its
employees to serve as mentors, particularly in metropolitan areas. In 2015, 35% of mentors came from
business/industry. It is logical for this sector to participate and support tnAchieves, as the ultimate
goal is to provide the state’s business and industry with a more qualified workforce.”

A University of Tennessee Working Paper found that Knox Achieves participants were 24.2 percentage
points more likely to seamlessly enroll in college within nine months of graduation and 29.6
percentage points more likely to seamlessly enroll in community college.26 For the 2011-12 school
year, this scholarship and mentoring program expanded to serve 22 counties across the state and
changed its name to tnAchieves.

Nevada’s free college tuition program incorporates a mentorship program similar to Tennessee’s, but
places responsibility for developing such a program on each of their community colleges, which are
not permitted to use existing government funding to create the program. The law, however, gives
each community college express permission to raise the money for mentoring from local resources. If
a community college does not create such a program the state will not provide them the money to
make their tuition free for incoming high school graduates.

Arkansas and Oregon also have their own versions of mentoring programs designed to ensure new
students are able to navigate the often-unfamiliar nature of college life.


Community Service
The Tennessee Promise also requires the completion of eight hours of community service per
semester. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said, “the research shows that students who serve in their
communities are more engaged and more successful, and it’s a great lesson to teach them – that while
we’re engaged in assisting you in your higher education goals, we’re also asking you to give back.”

Even greater community service requirements are part of plans in Arkansas (15 hours per semester)
and Missouri (50 hours of mentoring or tutoring in high school). Each of these states have used this
type of provision to respond to the frequently heard argument that students getting free tuition
should have some “skin in the game.”

However, CFCT's exclusive polling suggests Americans are more likely to object to this type of
provision more than almost any other eligibility requirement. The best way to respond to the “skin in
the game” argument is to require some sort of academic performance related to the student’s success
in completing college.

In 2019, Nevada’s legislature slightly reduced the number of community service hours required for
Nevada Promise Scholarship eligibility. The number of required community service hours prior to
receiving the scholarship was reduced from 20 hours per year to 8 hours per semester. College
students must also complete eight community service hours per semester to retain the scholarship.

Age at Time of College Enrollment

Many studies have shown a strong correlation between how soon after high school graduation a
student enrolls in college and completion of their chosen college program. For that reason, many free
college tuition programs require applicants to be an immediate high school graduate or complete a
home school program prior to turning 19 or at least enroll in college no later than their 20th birthday.
States with such eligibility requirements including Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and

By contrast, the Education Commission of the States (ECS) argued in a recent report that states
serious about achieving their goals for a college educated workforce cannot attain those goals
without free college tuition programs open to students who dropped out of college without a degree
or who failed to enroll upon graduation from high school. 27 The report points out that most states do
not have a sufficient number of high school students to meet their targets even if a large percentage of
them graduate and enroll in college. Accordingly, they call for free college tuition programs to include
revised state residency and dependency status requirements.


Specifically mentioned is the inclusion of “independent” students in the scholarship programs’
eligibility requirements. The federal government considers students who are at least 24 years of age or
who are married or who have children as “independent” in calculating financial aid benefits, but it
also includes younger students who are in foster care or are homeless. Military veterans regardless of
age are also considered independent under FAFSA rules.

Additionally, current free community college proposals require students to graduate from an in-state
high school. ECS argues that the eligibility criteria for in-state college tuition should be used instead
so as not to exclude current adult residents who may have graduated from high school in another

This issue of age or time of college enrollment is clearly related to the goals a state adopts for its
college completion policies. Tennessee has addressed the potential conflict by creating two programs
– one for recent high school graduates and another, called Tennessee Reconnect, for adults. Student
eligibility criteria include: not already having an associate or bachelor degree; being a Tennessee
resident for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant; completion of the FAFSA
and designation as an independent student; admission in an eligible postsecondary institution;
enrollment in a degree or certificate program at least part time (6 semester hours); and participation
in an advising program approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. Unlike the state’s
Promise program for high school graduates, there is no community service requirement.

Other states are discussing adopting “adult promise” programs of their own. Maryland’s newly
enacted promise program includes a separate provision designed to entice students who failed to
complete their course of college study to re-enroll and earn a degree.

Stay or Pay Requirements

Just as corporations often debate the value of training employees who might then change their
employment, some legislators have argued in the course of debates about implementing a free
college tuition program that it should contain a “stay or pay” provision to ensure those who enjoy the
state’s largesse stay in the state upon graduation long enough to return a benefit to the economy of
the state who paid for their education. Even though such a provision was the most controversial of all
eligibility requirements tested in our polling, adding such a provision has often been the key to
winning passage of the overall program.

In New York, for instance, Governor Cuomo accepted a Republican amendment to his Excelsior
scholarship proposal that requires students to live in New York state upon graduation for a number of
years equal to the years for which they received a scholarship. It also requires that if the student works
during the time they are receiving the scholarship, the employment must be in New York state. Failure
to abide by the post-graduation residency requirements converts the amount of Excelsior scholarship
money received during the length of time the residency requirement was not met into a zero-interest
loan that must be repaid to the state. The complexity of this and other eligibility criteria has led some

to conclude it has caused a significant reduction in the take up rate for Excelsior scholarships.
Although it is too early to come to such conclusions, there is no question that the administrative
burden of managing such a provision adds to the program’s overall cost.

By contrast, Rhode Island’s “stay or pay” provision, also added in negotiations by the Governor with
the legislature, is much simpler and requires no additional administrative expense. It simply requires
those who apply for free community college tuition to pledge to remain in the state upon graduation.

Additional “stay or pay” provisions can be found in Arkansas, Maryland and West Virginia. The
Arkansas Futures Grant Program requires those who receive the benefit of free college tuition to be
employed in Arkansas within six months of graduating and continue to reside in the state for three
years upon graduation. The Act to establish Maryland Community College Promise Scholarships in
2019 stipulates that recipients sign an agreement to maintain Maryland residency for at least one-year
post-college for each year that the scholarship was awarded. West Virginia’s Invests Grant Program
requires recipients to reside in West Virginia for the two years following obtainment of the degree or
certificate for which the grant or grants were awarded. In all three cases, the grant turns into a loan
that must be repaid to the state if the residency and/or employment provisions are not met. However,
many states allow deferrals or exemptions to “stay or pay” requirements for military service and to
pursue additional postsecondary education. West Virginia, for example, exempts individuals serving in
the armed services or attending an out-of-state postsecondary intuition at least half-time.

Drug Testing
The West Virginia Invests Grant Program requires recipients to pay for and pass a drug screening
before the start of each academic term that they receive an award. Students have a 60 day window
prior to the start of each term to pass the screening. Students who test positive for any specified
controlled substance (see will not be eligible to receive funds
from the WV Invests Grant Program for that semester or term. A failed screening however does not
prevent students from receiving an award in future terms.

A list of the states that have adopted some or all of the eligibility requirements described in this
chapter follows.

Chapter IV —
Funding and Sustaining Promise Programs

The original community-based Promise programs were funded using philanthropic donations either
from individual donors, as in Kalamazoo, Michigan, or the corporate sector, as in El Dorado, Arkansas.
However, these funds are inherently difficult to scale to the size and sustainability required for a
statewide Promise program. Instead, states have turned to existing revenue streams, such as
Tennessee’s lottery, or new revenue streams, as Michigan did with property tax reform, to make their
colleges tuition free. A vast majority of states, including Oregon, New York, California and Rhode
Island, simply appropriated a fixed sum in the state’s annual or biennial budget cycle. As free college
tuition becomes an even more popular idea for states to undertake, the need to secure stable funding
streams to fulfill the “promise” the state is making in the future becomes more critical.

Designing Sustainable Promise Programs

No matter what funding source is chosen, the long-term sustainability of any Promise program is
crucial to its success. A report by The Century Foundation of six early state programs that made
college tuition free for some residents found that that such place-based scholarships fared better in
receiving appropriations, even in fiscally difficult times, than more traditional higher education
financial aid programs. The report indicated that in and around the time of the Great Recession: 28

● The funding per full-time equivalent (“FTE”) student for all six existing Promise programs grew
between 12 and 142 percent, while overall appropriations per FTE student for higher
education fell in each state between 18 and 38 percent.

● Promise programs retained and increased funding even in states where their legislatures cut
funding for other financial aid programs.

● The six Promise programs grew at a time when state financial aid budgets fell by an average of
6% per FTE nationally.


This suggests that the first step to creating a sustainable free college tuition program at the state level
is to make a promise, not based on merit or need, of such assistance to the state’s residents. It is the
best way to avoid having such financial aid programs’ funding reduced in hard times.

To further enhance the ability of a state to make a long-term commitment to students early in their K-
12 education payable as much as twelve years later, CFCT recommends the creation of a “Dynamic
Endowment Fund” or DEF as the vehicle for holding, investing, and managing the funds. Such a
structure, with its own board and management, provides the greatest assurance that a multi-year
promise to future generations of students will be kept and protects the funds from any short-term
raids in times of fiscal emergencies. The Tennessee Promise takes these issues into consideration in
its design.

The 2014 legislation creating the Tennessee Promise established an irrevocable trust consisting of the
Tennessee Promise endowment account and the Tennessee Promise special reserve account. 29
Funding for the endowment came from two sources: 1) Total unexpended lottery scholarship
revenues from the previous 10 years had accumulated to more than $400 million. From these
reserves, approximately $312 million was transferred to the endowment; 2) A transfer of $47 million
from TSAC’s student loan guaranty operating reserve ("Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014,"
2014). These two deposits brought the initial endowment balance to approximately $360 million.
Investment of the endowment is administered by the Treasurer of the State of Tennessee. The
Promise sustainability model included long-term endowment earnings of 4%, yielding approximately
$7.2 million on an annual basis. Funding for the special reserve is derived from the following sources:
1) Interest earnings from the Promise endowment; 2) total annual net lottery proceeds (i.e., lottery
revenues in excess of expenditures on scholarships and TELS administration); and 3) interest earnings
on the special reserve. The special reserve is invested in similar long-term instruments as the
endowment, thus yielding a similar rate as the endowment. Annual interest earnings on the special
reserve will fluctuate, however, depending on the current balance.

Most states, however, will not be as fortunate as Tennessee in finding surplus funds to establish a
Promise DEF. Instead, states will need to find new sources of revenue to fund their investment in
making college tuition free.

Where to Find the Money to Pay for Free College Tuition

The first place to look for at least some of the revenue to fund free college tuition is in places where a
new revenue stream has been created without any designation of what the money should be spent


on. In such situations, the popularity of the idea of free college tuition can be used to trump
competing claims for the money. CFCT’s exclusive polling conducted December 2017 shows states
using new money to pay for making colleges tuition free is more popular than any other use of the
money, excluding health care and K-12 education.

Several states have used the overriding popularity of making college more affordable to lay claim to
new revenues generated by tax reform. In 2012, the voters of California passed Proposition 39 which
closed a loophole in the way out-of-state corporations were taxed. The proposition set aside half of
the incremental revenues that would flow from this change to the tax code for the legislature to
allocate as part of its general fund budget. With the strong support of the Speaker of the House at the
time, some of those general fund monies were successfully set aside to be used to fund a middle-class
college scholarship program that would pay for up to one-third of the tuition costs for students in
California from middle class families, as defined by family income. While the initial amounts were
smaller than that, by designating these funds for this purpose, the legislature created a source of
revenue that could grow over time to achieve the program’s goal. Even though some legislators later
tried to end or limit the program to find funds for other purposes, the middle-class scholarship
program survived all such attempts, long after the Speaker who sponsored the program had retired.

Similarly, when Michigan reformed its personal property tax assessment process, the Republican
legislature and the Democratic governor agreed to set aside 50% of the incremental revenues under
the new law to fund Promise programs in ten communities in the state so long as those communities
also raised private money to get their Promise program started. The program has since been
expanded to include up to fifteen community-based Promise programs, most notably the City of
Detroit, even as the partisan balance of power shifted in the state government.

And, in Arkansas, under the leadership of then Lt. Governor Bill Halter, a lottery to fund college
scholarships by constitutional amendment received over 63% voter approval. Although previous
efforts to establish a lottery in the state had failed, a favorable vote was obtained by restricting the
use of the funds solely for college scholarships and requiring the state to maintain a baseline level of
spending on scholarships.

This option of finding new revenue streams to fund free college tuition has become much more viable,
thanks to two recent Supreme Court rulings.

On May 14, 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled in response to a lawsuit from the state of
New Jersey that the federal law, known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act
(PAPSA) preventing states other than Nevada from conducting online sports betting was
unconstitutional.30 Instead, the Court ruling said, it was up to each state to determine if it wanted such
activities to be conducted in its state and if so under what rules. In addition to New Jersey, West
Virginia, Delaware, and Mississippi have legal mechanisms in place to implement online sports betting
should they choose to do so. All told, 20 states were considering sports betting as a potential source of
new revenue at the time of the Supreme Court’s decision – a number that is likely to rise with the
clarity of the Court’s ruling.


The Arkansas experience shows that dedicating funds for the purpose of making college tuition free
from an activity – gambling – that might otherwise be frowned upon, makes adoption possible. CFCT’s
polling on the issue showed that free college tuition held its own among other competing priorities on
what voters would want states to do with any money from online sports betting.

An unrelated 2018 Supreme Court decision also created a possible new revenue stream for states to
use to fund free college tuition. By a 5-4 vote the Court overturned its 1992 decision (Quill Corp. vs.
North Dakota) limiting the circumstances under which states could collect sales tax from online
purchases made by their residents from out-of-state online retailers. One source estimated that the
ruling would provide Virginia with $250 million in new sales tax revenue – enough to make all of their
community colleges tuition free.31 Although there will be many claimants in any political debate over
what to do with this revenue windfall, identifying a new program with such broad-based popularity as
free college tuition is a sound way to sort out the competing claims. Additionally, it’s a great way to
fund free college tuition programs since sales taxes are a very stable source of state revenues that will
increase over time along with the population.

In addition to collecting sales tax from out of state retailers, some states are considering extending
their sales taxes to the purchase of services, rather than products. If the funding of free college tuition
was promoted as the end goal of such a shift, the chances of it being approved would improve

These examples highlight the importance of not being constrained by existing tax structures and
budgeting priorities in the establishment of a state free college tuition program. States can also look
beyond the power to tax for ways to fund a free college initiative.

Non-Traditional Funding Sources

Several additional sources for funding Promise programs have been proposed that go beyond the
appropriations and taxing authority of state government. Given the importance of creating diversified
funding streams for a program of free college tuition to survive over time, policymakers may want to
examine these ideas to supplement their free college tuition funding or use the ideas to pay for other
important parts of such a program, such as mentoring.

Community Promise Program Incentives

The Michigan Promise Zone legislation created an incentive for communities who wanted to create
their own version of the Kalamazoo Promise by making state funding available depending on a


community’s own efforts to fund their Promise. This model need not be limited to what is in effect a
“matching grant” approach like federal/state programs for highways or health care.

Before California established its “Promise Grants” program that made its community colleges tuition
free for all high school graduates enrolling full time, a number of the state’s community colleges
adopted their own Promise programs, using philanthropy as the funding source. The president of the
Long Beach Community College, Eloy Oakley, was the leader among his peers in pursuing this
approach to make the education of its youth a city-wide effort in partnership with Long Beach’s K-12
District. When Oakley was named as the next Chancellor of the state’s entire Community College
system, he used his experiences to encourage other community college districts to follow his lead.
That in turn, helped build political support for the legislation that made the first year free for all high
school students enrolling in fall 2019, and the first two years in fall of 2020.

Even for states without a new revenue source, incentives can be created to encourage communities to
enact Promise programs, which can then serve as the first step toward a statewide program. For
instance, in those states where property taxes are levied to fund local schools, states could enact
legislation allowing such levies to be used to make their community colleges tuition free as well.
Increasing property taxes by a vote of the community to enable residents to send their children to
their local community college for all or part of their higher educational experience can be especially
attractive in cities with lower income families who pay less in property taxes and large concentrations
of major corporations that pay a larger share of the existing property tax revenue. Of course, the
details of this approach will vary widely depending on the state’s structure for collecting and
distributing property tax revenues, but it is a step that can be taken with literally no cost to the state.

College Savings Accounts

Each state in the United States offers a 529 savings plan (named for the relevant section of the federal
tax code), a state-sponsored, tax-preferred savings plan for qualified post-secondary education
expenses. By themselves, 529 accounts do not meet the definition of a free college tuition program,
nor help in financing one. However, fourteen states provide either a seed deposit or offer a matching
grant into 529 accounts, and seven states have mechanisms in place to provide a universal seed
deposit or match. For example, Tennessee provides a 4:1 match for all deposits to a state 529 account
(with a minimum $25 deposit), up to $500/year and $1,500 per lifetime. By incenting families to start
saving early for their child’s education through what are generally known as College Savings Accounts
(CSA), states can generate funds to help pay for college tuition when the student enrolls in college.32

If a state’s goal for instituting a Promise program is to create a college going culture early in a
student’s educational experience, incenting CSAs provides one way to involve families in this cultural
shift. Findings from the SEED for Oklahoma Kids research experiment, in which children were


randomly selected from a state population and assigned to receive $1,000 in a CSA at birth, indicate
that having a CSA improves parents’ college expectations for their children.33 Parents in the treatment
group had higher expectations for their children and their expectations were more likely to remain
constant or increase during the time period studied than parents in the control group.

If the goal of a state’s Promise program is to increase the number of students who graduate, there is
some evidence that incenting the establishment of CSAs can also help achieve that outcome. In the
aggregate, children who have a college saver identity and $500 or more in school designated savings
are about two times more likely to graduate from college than children who have a college-bound
identity only.34 Children in low- and moderate-income households with college-saver identities and
school designated savings of $500 or less are about three times more likely to graduate college than
children who have a college-bound identity only. Further, African-American children with college-
saver identities and school-designated savings of $500 or more are about two and a half times more
likely to graduate from college than those with a college-bound identity only. As a result, some states,
such as Indiana, are considering linking their free college tuition programs to the establishment of
incentives for funding CSAs.

State incentives for CSA’s do not necessarily require the upfront expenditure of funds. Just as several
states exclude 529 savings from determining Temporary Assistance to Needy Families eligibility today,
CSA formations could be encouraged by also exempting them from such calculations. Additionally,
expanding the ability of both 529 and CSA contributions to be made by those without a banking
relationship would help serve lower income populations.

Finding the funds to support a free college tuition plan is usually the most difficult part of the policy
process. Tough, inter-branch battles have erupted in states between Governors seeking to institute
such a policy and legislators, even from their own party, preferring to use the funds for other
purposes. For this reason, it's important to be very clear about the estimated costs of such a program
and the funding sources that will be used to pay for it. Bringing the debate to a successful conclusion
often requires both sides making compromises that lower the cost of the program – albeit by adding
eligibility criteria that reduces the number of students eligible to receive free college tuition.


Chapter V —
Putting It All Together

A Three Step Process for Designing Your State’s Promise Program

This briefing book is designed to help state policymakers think through the elements of making
college tuition free, so they can develop, and effectively implement, programs that can reap
significant economic and societal benefits. We realize that each state has its own unique challenges,
tax structures, higher education systems, and political make up. So, while we have provided many
proven examples on different elements that we believe will both justify the expenditures and prove to
be politically popular, we have not attempted to provide a single, “model legislative proposal” or
suggest there is only one path that states must follow to address the challenge of college affordability.

The purpose of this concluding chapter in the briefing book is to provide a guide for policymakers that
will enable each one to make an informed decision on what should be included in their state’s free
college tuition program, considering all the variables that must be addressed to make the program

Here are the steps we would recommend each state take to put together a program tailored to its
fiscal and political environment.

STEP 1. Begin by gaining clarity on what goals you are trying to achieve by creating a
free college tuition program.

A great example of a clear policy goal that helped define and focus a state’s program is the “Drive for
55” plan of Tennessee Governor Haslam. By making it clear that increasing the number of higher
education trained workers in the state was the reason for the program, the Governor won support
from the business community and other constituencies that might have otherwise questioned the
expenditure of funds required to make their community colleges tuition free. Clear goals not only help
generate support for the program, they also greatly increase the effectiveness of the program’s
design. The following chart provides examples of the relationship between goals and program design
for two different policy goals often associated with free college tuition programs.

Once the policy goal has been agreed upon, each design lever will need to be considered in the
context of the funds available to pay for them and the political implications of each decision.
Fortunately, free college tuition programs have demonstrated the ability to change outcomes at both
the K-12 and college level, so the same investment can be used to help achieve more than one goal if a
state is reluctant to choose among them. Nevertheless, clarity of goals will help you decide which
specific design levers you will want to pull.

By way of example, here are the questions that guided policymakers in Tennessee as they drafted
their Promise program once the overall goal was agreed upon: 35
a. What is the Promise you are making?

b. To whom is the Promise being made? (traditional, non-traditional students, or both)

c. Who will provide the Promise?

d. What services will be included in the Promise?

e. What will the metrics of success be for the Promise?


f. How will the Promise be funded?

g. How will the Promise be diversified and sustained over time – financially, politically, and

The next step in the process is to focus in on answering those last two questions.

STEP 2. Compare your goals and policy design choices to the potential cost of
implementing a system of free college tuition.

Each state will need to make its own estimates of the cost in terms of revenue lost by making any part
of their system of higher education tuition free. Start by gaining an in depth understanding of what
revenues are currently being generated from instate tuition by institution and year of attendance. This
information is publicly available in the U.S. Department of Education’s IPEDS database but may not be
as current as your state’s own fiscal information. The data by year, as in Freshman, Sophomore,
Junior, or Senior, will let you calculate the revenue that will be lost by making the first year, for
example, of college free in the first year of the program’s implementation. The calculation for the out
years of the program are more complicated. They will need to incorporate, if possible, the state’s
experiences with dropout rates after the first year, potential shifts in attendance from private to public
colleges in response to the offer of free college tuition, historic transfer rates between community
colleges and four-year institutions, etc.

If the state’s own budget systems and personnel are not able to make this estimate given the number
of variables involved, there are services available – some of which are fee based – for doing so. These
include the Upjohn Institute in Kalamazoo, MI, which has dedicated staff who have done such
analyses for a number of states as part of their overall research on Promise programs, and MDRC
which has an online cost calculator.36

There are two potential sources of money, already in a state’s higher education financial system, that
can be used to offset whatever number is initially agreed upon as the cost of making college tuition
free. The first is Pell Grant revenue, which is currently the major federal program to provide money to
students to cover the price of tuition based on their family’s financial need. If a decision has been
made to make the state’s free college tuition program a “last dollar” program, then the money each
student receives from Pell Grants will reduce your calculation of the amount of tuition revenue “lost”
by creating a Promise program, since the state will only be obligated to pay a student’s tuition for
what the Pell Grant revenue does not cover. Keep in mind this amount will change as the program
impacts student enrollment and the number of people who apply for federal aid. The more who do so,
the lower the cost to the state, assuming the state’s Promise is a “last dollar” program.


One of the keys to the success of the Tennessee Promise is their requirement that each applicant for a
Tennessee Promise Scholarship must complete a FAFSA application for federal student aid. Although
every state with a last dollar Promise program requires completion of this application for federal aid,
the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that a strong
mentoring program coupled with a last-dollar scholarship increased a student’s likelihood of
attending college by more than 500%.37 Because of the effectiveness of their mentoring program, in
the first year of the Tennessee Promise more than 38,000 students filled out the FAFSA form. The state
experienced the highest year over year gain in FAFSA completion and led the nation in the number of
students filing for Pell Grants. Tennessee comprised 40% of all growth in the FAFSA filing rate
nationwide from 2014 to 2015 and has led the nation in FAFSA filing since the implementation of the
Tennessee Promise. Based on their experience and your state’s own plans for encouraging every high
school student, regardless of need, to “fill out their FAFSA”, the normally stable amount of Pell Grant
revenue flowing to a state should be adjusted based on estimates of the impact the overall program
will have on Pell Grant applications.

In year one of the Tennessee Promise program, the total cost to the state of Tennessee was
approximately $15 million.38 With this relatively small investment, it is estimated that Tennessee
added about 4,000 students into post-secondary education and improved its college-going rate (the
percent of high school seniors who enroll in college immediately following graduation) by 5-6
percentage points. Comparing Fall 2014 (prior to the Tennessee Promise) to Fall 2015 (after
implementation), first-time freshman enrollment increased 24.7% at community colleges, 20% at
colleges of applied technology, and 10.1% overall across Tennessee’s public higher education sector.

Other states have experienced similar enrollment gains with relatively little incremental expenditure
of state funds. Rhode Island’s Promise of free community college tuition increased enrollment of full-
time Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) students directly from high school by a staggering
47%. According to CCRI President Megan Hughes, more than 1,400 such students enrolled in the Fall
2017 semester, compared to 950 the previous year. The program was funded by an initial
appropriation of $2.75 million in the first year. The state estimated $6 million would cover two years of
community college tuition in subsequent years.

The other potential source of existing revenue to offset the cost of making tuition free is state and/or
private college scholarship programs that currently exist. Some states such as Washington, Louisiana,
and California have robust systems for providing grants to students based on need or family income.
This money, as in the case of Tennessee’s Education Lottery Programs, can be aligned with the state’s
Promise program to reduce the amount of new revenue that is needed. It is therefore important to



properly identify the amount of state aid currently being provided and how a Promise program might
impact those expenditures.

However, there are arguments against taking this step. Advocates for free public college tuition, such
as Sara Goldrick-Rab, point out that the cost of attending college is not limited to tuition, and
therefore, scholarship money should not be used to offset the cost of a free tuition program but
instead continue to be given to student to help offset those costs. 39 This is an important policy choice
that should be made in the context of each state’s unique fiscal and political environment. Oregon
responded to this argument by having the Oregon Promise pay a minimum $1,000 benefit for any
student whose tuition is fully covered by a Pell Grant.

Finally, the cost of a free college tuition program can be further reduced by adding requirements that
will ultimately lessen the number of students eligible to receive the Promise program’s “scholarship.”
It is important to keep in mind that these requirements reduce the cost of the program by reducing
the number of students who can apply, potentially working at cross purposes to a state’s overall goal.
They also can quickly become the subject of political debate.

Still, academic requirements, particularly high school grade point averages, or residency
requirements, such as how long the student or family has resided in the state, are not uncommon.
Other requirements, such as requiring community service or staying in the state upon graduation, are
often included to make sure students have some “skin in the game,” in the words of those often
advocating for such provisions. Many of the political debates surrounding free college tuition have
focused on these types of requirements.


Our research shows that academic requirements generate the highest percentage of those who say
such a requirement “must be included in the program” (the right side of the chart above) and the least
opposition (the left side of the chart above). Those that require students to be part of the state’s
population, maximize federal monies and attend full time, also are relatively popular requirements.
However, other popular provisions that can be found in some state programs – such as requiring
community service or residing in the state after graduation – draw the greatest amount of opposition
and do little to add to a program’s popularity. That doesn’t mean such requirements shouldn’t be
included in a state’s plan for reasons other than gaining popular support. For example, CFCT strongly
supports the inclusion of mentoring programs because of their positive impact on student graduation
rate, even though our polling suggests the public is not particularly fond of such a requirement being
part of a free college tuition program.

The other major requirement that will spark a great deal of debate is whether the program should be
universal, as are all states support for K-12 education, or only available to students from families with
a certain level of income.

CFCT’s polling shows that universal programs tend to generate more political support across partisan
lines and, therefore, are more sustainable over time. However, universality has made some programs
a target for those who say they “don’t want to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the education of rich
families’ children.” Oregon addressed this issue, and the question of “skin in the game,” by making
their Promise program universal and requiring every student to pay $50 toward their tuition. It is also
quite common for those invested in existing financial aid programs to criticize free college tuition
programs because in their opinion it “spends scarce tax dollars on people other than those most in
need of the help,” i.e. students from poorer families. Whatever the merit of this argument, CFCT’s
polling shows focusing free college tuition only to middle class and lower income families but not
wealthier ones is not a popular idea — particularly with Republicans and Independents.

Policymakers should anticipate that eligibility requirements will occupy a great deal of the political
debate over the program and be prepared to provide an estimate of the fiscal impact of each
requirement on overall costs.

STEP 3. Once you have decided how much your Promise Program will cost, it’s
important to turn your attention to making the program as effective as possible in
achieving your goal and delivering the expected return on the investment.

In several of the appendices to this briefing book, we have provided information on a series of proven
strategies to make sure those who enroll in free college complete their studies and become
productive members of the state’s workforce. While each state will need to determine how many
support services and success strategies it wants to implement and can afford, we strongly
recommend that at a minimum the Promise program legislation addresses the issues of college
readiness and preparation, mentoring, and counseling at both the high school and college level, as
well as some form of performance-based incentives for those schools that will be gaining the benefit
of free tuition under the state’s program. Coupled with effective marketing strategies to ensure
students and families know the benefits a free college tuition program offers, these additional
strategies will help ensure the program enjoys the success it will need to have to ensure its long-term

Once an agreement has been reached on eligibility requirements and support services, it is time to
compare the estimated costs of that proposed policy design with available revenue. Developing a free
college tuition program that is fiscally responsible and effective is inevitably an iterative process,
requiring several attempts to bring funding into balance with estimated costs. To help with those
discussions, here is an example of a summary of the type of policy choices a state thinking about
implementing a middle dollar Promise program went through before settling on their ultimate tuition
free college policy program:

For answers to further questions you may have about the process of designing a program for free
college tuition in your state, please contact the Campaign for Free College Tuition and be sure to
review all the resources included in this book, including the appendices.

Appendix I-IV Introduction

Supporting Promise Students

Even though most discussions about Promise programs focus on the powerful guarantee of free
college tuition, the experience of other states and communities demonstrates that most successful
programs have a well thought out plan to support students who qualify for the benefit all the way
through their college career. In short, a Promise program is about more than money. It is about
making sure students who receive the benefit are prepared for college and given appropriate
counseling so they have a greater chance to enroll and complete post-secondary education. In
designing your own state’s program, the following examples of successful “wraparound” services
should be considered to assure the success of both Promise students and the program itself.

Appendix I —
K12 and Post-Secondary Support Services: The
Kalamazoo Promise Experience

Most existing local and state Promise programs are in some fashion modeled after the first place-
based scholarship program established in Kalamazoo, MI through the generosity of anonymous
donors.40 There is much to celebrate about The Kalamazoo Promise, but the lessons for states and
communities are clear: scholarships are only one of several components needed to foster student
success and to achieve the ultimate outcome goals of the state/community.

According to former Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent, Janice Brown, “When The Kalamazoo
Promise was announced in 2005, it did not take long for the city and its people to realize what a
tremendous responsibility they had been given to ensure the success of Promise scholars.
Organizations and individuals stepped up time and again, and still there is much work to do. One of
the most challenging aspects of support continues to be community alignment—getting the
community institutions and organizations to embrace common goals and accountabilities for youth


CFCT asked Janice Brown, now Executive Director Emeritus of the Kalamazoo Promise, based on her
experiences to author the following paper on K-12 and post-secondary support services that states,
communities, school systems and post-secondary institutions may want to provide to ensure their
scholars success.41 On the state level, governors, legislators and state higher education executive
officers examining tuition-free college may want to simultaneously determine what support services
are currently being offered in the state and identify regional and community partners willing to scale
successful interventions in partnership with state government along the model of Colorado’s
Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, detailed later in this Appendix.

A Case for Comprehensive Youth Services

Written by Janice Brown, Kalamazoo Promise Trustee

Although this paper relies on research and experience from several sources of Promise
programs around the country, it primarily discusses what has been collectively learned over
the past fourteen years working in Kalamazoo, Michigan with The Kalamazoo Promise. 42 In
effect, it is a case study about The Kalamazoo Promise and the wide range of support services
that are critical to student success.

Starting from birth, through elementary, high school and college and into the workforce, there
are many factors to consider while building youth support systems. This paper will examine
some of those factors; the discussion exemplifies the complexity of successful Promise
programs and the intensive and ongoing work that is needed by communities to ensure
student success.

Often, the term “place-based” is used to explain how the work is being done. Communities are
gathering expertise from government, education, non-profits, foundations, healthcare and
business at the local level to collaborate around successful strategies and programs. Although
federal and state programs accelerate implementation and provide the needed resources, it is
the community members that make the decisions about purposeful goals and ongoing support
for student success.

The support system for Promise students’ needs to begin as early as birth and be based on
individual needs along a continuum of services until a student is job ready. This type of
support system illustrates the importance of a comprehensive, integrated data system to keep



track of each student and the services they require. Beginning at birth, children can benefit
from an individualized development plan (IDP) – a comprehensive view of a child’s condition
historically and currently in terms of physical, social, emotional and cognitive characteristics
and needs. These needs are coupled with the intersection of resources and strategies that can
be used in a proactive way to support growth and development in each domain.

Communities build systems of support and tackle difficult issues; from infant mortality and
teen-age pregnancy, to in-home family support services and early learning programs. Using
statistical data on cities, counties and areas served, often pulled from the census, communities
identify neighborhoods where high risk factors are more prevalent and more intensive services
are needed. Community leaders and their organizations develop comprehensive plans to
support families in distress and work towards understanding and major social issues such as
food insecurity, housing, physical and mental health, government services and education to
develop prevention strategies. The collaborative planning tables include leaders from non-
profit agencies, foundations, government agencies, education, mental and physical health and
families as they offer insight to issues and practical ideas for resolution.

Early Development and Learning

Individualized Development Plans (IDP) for children are established at birth in Kalamazoo.
Birth records provided by hospitals are used to visit new families in homes and more than
thirty Family-Partner workers visit weekly to offer service and support rather than judgment.
Following the nationally validated curriculum “Parents as Teachers”, workers come from their
neighborhoods, are familiar to families, and work hard to develop trusting relationship so that
institutions can be navigated and families in need can get the support that is available and
needed. Parent advocates can establish children’s needs using the IDP and match community
services to them. The plan remains flexible and current as the needs of the child evolve.

Early childhood programming is often focused on the development of pre-kindergarten (pre-K)

programs; there are numerous communities in the United States that have identified quality
pre-K programs as a universal goal. 43 And in these discussions, correlation is drawn between
high quality pre-k, success to and through college and higher earnings for participants as they
enter the workforce. In his book, Investing in Kids: Early Childhood Programs and Local
Economic Development, Timothy J. Bartik (2011) builds a strong practical and economic based
case for pre-K. He states, “Local economic development strategies in the United States should
include extensive investments in high-quality early childhood programs such as pre-K.” He
goes on to point out that the Pew Charitable Trust (2001) found support for early childhood
programs is enhanced by clear evidence of business and economic benefits – increased jobs


and earnings for local residents. The book builds a strong case for pre-k, sighting research,
graphics, statistics and other factual information about the benefit to local communities that
build strong pre-K programs. But Bartik also acknowledges that early kindergarten programs
create challenges because of the long-term nature of the economic development benefits and
describes it as a political handicap. When local and state politicians think in terms of their 4-
year terms, it is difficult to sustain an effort that can take as much as 18 or more years before
participants enter the workforce and communities reap the benefit. In spite of this factor,
communities are often coupling universal pre-K with free college as part of their overall
community transformation strategy for youth.

K-12 Support
The public-school system has the advantage of a captive audience of students and it is logical
that systems of support for serving students be placed as much as possible in the schools.
There are countless barriers that impede student progress, even though every child should
have the right to a child-centered system that supports their growth and development. For
years, educators have been strapped with the responsibilities of the physical, social, emotional
and academic needs of students and have been explicitly trained in one factor – to educate
children. Despite this, over the past ten years, Kalamazoo Public Schools has implemented
several highly successful strategies that have been moving results in the right direction. The
school district has grown by 24%, achievement scores are up, the number of students taking
AP courses has grown 150%, and the dropout rate is down. Since the announcement of The
Kalamazoo Promise, the school district has built three new schools supported by three bonds
totaling $209 million, three enhancement millage renewals and a special education millage

But no school district should tackle these complex issues alone. Children deserve to be served
by their entire community, and it is often forgotten that they are in school only about 12% or
less of their formative years. Through collaboration, accountability and alignment, groups can
move to eliminate the barriers that get in the way of a child’s learning. Communities in Schools
(CIS), of Kalamazoo is implemented in 20 schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan and has as its
mission bringing direct service to students based on their needs. CIS of Kalamazoo “overcomes
the barriers that derail kids, giving them hope and the belief that they can succeed in school,
graduate and be prepared for life.” It is affiliated with a national network of 200 state and local
CIS affiliates. CIS Kalamazoo has often been credited, in partnership with the Kalamazoo
Public Schools (KPS) for helping students graduate and become a Promise scholar. 44

The design is simple; place a site coordinator at each school who meets regularly with teachers
and administrators to access the needs and determine the services that are going to be most


effective for the development of the whole child. After it is decided what the student needs,
site coordinators bring in partner agencies and individual volunteers that specialize in the
needed service. Whether it is dental, healthcare, mental health, clothing, food, mentoring,
tutoring or a host of other services, this child-centered approach is vastly different than a
single non-profit seeking to support kids. It is a shift in partnership from a “you need me” to a
full-scale service delivery system based upon the child’s needs. It assumes that all children
have multiple developmental needs and that the needs change on an ongoing basis. And there
is a significant accountability associated with CIS Kalamazoo; the data from Kalamazoo Public
Schools is the measure of each student’s success. Called an Integrated Student Services Model,
the annual evaluation measures student success based on reading, mathematics, behavior,
and attendance.

In addition to the daily support students receive from CIS Kalamazoo, there is also an extensive
after-school program funded by the Michigan Department of Education 21 st Century
Community Learning Centers (federal funding). Managed by CIS Kalamazoo eleven elementary
and four middle schools can extend the learning day and for six weeks in the summer.
Students can get the homework help they need, a variety of supports, experiences and
personal relationships with adults that can change their lives. According to the America’s
Promise Alliance which has a focus on drop-out prevention, relationships matter. In a research
study by Boston University (2015) “too many young people are facing too many hurdles to
graduation with too little help”. Further, they found that young people are far more likely to
graduate if they have access to someone who is their anchor along with a web of support. With
CIS in Kalamazoo it includes supporting students as they move through the grade-level

The “web of support” that underserved students need is complex, difficult and often under-
funded. But systems that have a framework that support the whole child and their many needs
are far more beneficial for them. Based on national, state and local research, students served
by CIS and other community school-based organizations have a better chance, and in the case
of Kalamazoo, they are in a far better position to be college-ready.45 Lisbeth Morales, a
Kalamazoo Promise scholar, sums it up beautifully, “Your race, color or past doesn’t determine
what kind of capability you have within yourself. Any put downs or mistakes made should be
seen as an opportunity to grow and learn…CIS has been there to help me and other students
to continue and finish strong.”

Other Supports, K-12

At the secondary education level, other supports that help students who are college-bound are
worth noting, especially those who are underrepresented or first-generation college students.

45 Programs.pdf

Soon after The Kalamazoo Promise was announced, Superintendent Michael F. Rice convened
a group of educators to define, “a college-going culture” for the district. This information has
been widely publicized, taught by teachers from K-12, and shared annually with parents and
guardians. It is ingrained in the fabric of the district and has been critical in raising
expectations, giving student’s purpose and direction and creating full awareness of the
opportunity and expectation that all students will attend and complete college.

One issue for students is how they can get the information, applications, other scholarships
and support they need to get accepted into college. Through the College and Career Access
Network (CACAN) in Kalamazoo, significant increases have been made in completion of the
FAFSA as well as providing access to other scholarship opportunities. Supported by the
Michigan and National College Access Network, plans are developed at the local level where
students can access support in the schools (often at centers based in the school), in their
neighborhoods and in churches and other neighborhood organizations. Financial advising,
application processes, visitations, other scholarship applications, etc. are often a part of this
support. Sometimes current college students share their experiences so students know what
to expect. College access programs can systematically bring high school students through the
complex process of financial aid, application, expectations, and selection of the college that
best meets the needs of the student’s aspirations and talents.

Promise communities are just now beginning to understand the need for career and vocational
opportunities for students of all ages. Beginning with career awareness in elementary school
and moving to career exploration in the middle years, culminating in career observation and
experience in high school and college, business partners play a significant role in exposing
students to jobs now and in the future. Several internship opportunities are now available for
Promise scholars throughout the United States. Motivated by the national emphasis of jobs
available in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas, and the
needs of local businesses for specific job skills, business leaders’ work with communities to
target jobs available and get students exposed to those opportunities. Community colleges
have also been significant partners in this area as their relationship with business,
manufacturing and other trade and certificate programs is long established.

Post-Secondary Support
It would be easy to say, community college and university students need the same support as
students in K-12 do, and that is generally correct. The problem with this solution is that it is
simplistic; there are several unique variables that need to be considered for greater student
success/degree completion. As Promise programs expand throughout the United States, many
community colleges are responding; providing support and resources to increase credential
and degree attainment based upon several factors that make every student unique. These

1. Self-supporting students; some are supporting other family members or siblings
and their own families.

2. Adult learners, who are working part-time or full-time.

3. Marginalized students who are often first-generation college attendees and do not
have the support system that is needed for success.

4. Underrepresented students who often find themselves underprepared and under-

informed about college and the academic and social factors needed for success.

Once enrolled, all students, but especially underserved individuals, need access to support
services. Post-secondary institutions are beginning to expand student services and provide
financial, academic, personal, social, and career services to their students to ensure that they
are developing whole students. Additionally, many colleges are tailoring these services to
particular groups of students – veterans, first generation students, learners with disabilities,
and students from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds. Perhaps the greatest
difference for colleges that have traditionally offered some of these supports is that these
services are effectively integrated together and include them as core components of a
comprehensive system of support. Examples of nationally recognized initiatives and examples
of their work include:46

● The City University of New York (CUNY) has created an accelerated study program to
address the challenge of remedial education student success. Community college
students are provided with financial, academic and personal support. There are
many services offered based on student need – advising, academic and career
counseling, tutoring, tuition waivers, transportation, and financial support for
textbooks. The model has also been successfully imported into three community
colleges in Ohio.47

● The Tacoma College Housing Assistance Program in Washington provides three-

year rental assistance for students who attend college full-time and find themselves
unable to afford housing.

● Lee College in Texas partners with 10 local school districts to align high school and
college curriculum. The college also places advisors in the partnering high schools
and hosts professional development workshops for teachers.

● Kalamazoo Valley Community College rebuilt and centralized its student support


and renamed it the Student Success Center. Struggling Promise scholars are
required to get an advocate to help them determine the support they need and
follow up with them to assure the supports are in place and effective.

● Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts created the Summer Transition

Program; it helps students enroll in college-level courses as soon as possible. The
program provides free boot camps and eight-week bridge courses.

Academic Preparation
Many students enter college less prepared than their middle-class peers. For example, on
average, white high school seniors score over 20 points higher than Latino students on the
National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) mathematics test, a standardized
assessment given to a sample of students nationwide. The results are similar for reading
scores-a 22-point achievement gap has been consistently reported. 48

The traditional solution by colleges is to ask underprepared students to enroll in

developmental courses before they begin to take college level courses. Some students make
take multiple “remedial” courses to improve their skill level. Because community colleges are
open-access they serve a disproportionate amount of academically underprepared students;
as many as 52% of all entering community college students are placed into remediation.49
Unfortunately, these courses are required to enroll in college-level courses and do not
contribute toward a student’s progress toward a degree or credential. Despite its intention to
help students succeed in college, research shows that developmental education is a barrier to

As a result, many community colleges are developing programs and support services that
accelerate learning and avoid the trap of remedial education. At Kalamazoo Valley Community
College in Kalamazoo, Michigan remedial English classes are being combined with the college
level classes. For students needing extra support and help a student tutor is hired and placed
into the course. Students are required to meet with their classroom tutor once a week outside
of class to get support for learning and homework. In mathematics, the courses are not
combined, but the tutor is required and the student accelerates their own learning through
supplemental on-line programs that are offered to them. Other colleges offer summer
transition programs that work on preparation and expectation in college and some community
colleges bring these programs to the local high school. Community colleges throughout the
nation are experimenting with programs and services that better meet the needs of students



and streamline the developmental education process. (See MDRC section of this appendix for
more details of their success in dealing with this issue.)

Accountability and Leadership

Leaders at the community college level see increases in student completion as a high priority.
And they understand those increases come from a group of students that are traditionally
underserved and whose many needs have traditionally not been met. College presidents who
assign senior level leaders and vice-presidents to these programs and have them report results
are making the greatest progress. Understanding that these new initiatives require flexibility
and change to improve success for students is part of the equation; they are driven by data and
by student results. And college presidents who know how to align resources go after new
dollars and create teams dedicated to design and new initiatives that work will see the results
in student completion.

Educational institutions that collaborate with other community programs help fulfill their goal
to make higher education accessible to all students in their communities. One of the best
examples of collaboration is the Long Beach College Promise.51 Established in 2008, the Long
Beach Unified School District, Long Beach City College and California State University Long
Beach developed a partnership to prepare students for college. Formalized through a
memorandum of understanding that defined the goals of the partnership each institution
committed to specific services. Leaders at these institutions keep their own institutions
accountable to the College Promise by the memorandum, annual reports and cost sharing.
Each year, the initiative releases a report to the community; the mayor and city officials in Long
Beach are strong supporters of the Long Beach Promise.

Research and Evaluation

The success of Promise programs relies heavily on the providers to use data to show how
retention and graduation can be improved. The Kalamazoo Promise keeps multiple data
points on every student and research results are reported regularly by the W.E. Upjohn
Institute for Employment Research.52 The Pittsburgh Promise53 is consistently evaluated by the
University of Pittsburgh and the El Dorado Promise by the University of Arkansas. 54 The results
of these research studies help improve not only these Promise programs; the results are
shared freely throughout the country for other start up and established programs for the
purpose of program improvement. While the timeline for many of these programs is short; the
results have been impressive.55 More students than ever are going to college, completing





college, and more institutions than ever are concerned with the right goals-making good on
the promise of college that will lead to a degree or credential as well as future success in the
job market.

The national movement to increase college completion is an exciting concept that has swept
the country. With more than 100 communities and a dozen states identified as offering some
type of free college tuition, Promise programs are leading this effort. 56 This movement has
pushed communities to deliberate and implement support systems along a continuum for
students from birth to and through college and into the workforce. These support services,
delivered through a variety of community-based resources, help institutions eliminate
achievement gaps and help support the growth and development needs of the diverse student
populations that they serve. Acknowledging the vast array of support that is provided
throughout the country, this paper is intended to serve as one example and provide the reader
with ideas and concepts for further study.

Appendix II —
Mentoring: The Tennessee Promise’s Secret to

The best example of an effective statewide mentoring program is in Tennessee. The program pairs all
applicants with mentors to assist students in eliminating the barriers associated with postsecondary
access and success. To this end, tnAchieves, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, currently serves as the partnering
organization in 85 of the state’s 95 counties.57 They have established county-based advisory councils
comprised of local higher education, secondary education, and business leaders, as well as public
officials to ensure local ownership and sustainability; recruited and trained over 7,500 mentors
annually since the establishment of the Tennessee Promise; and established summer bridge
programs for students requiring remediation. The success of their public/private partnership
demonstrates that such services can be provided with minimal costs to the state.



Mentors serve three roles: resource, taskmaster, and encourager. 58 The mentor plays the role of
trusted resource when the student has questions and/or encounters a barrier to post-secondary entry.
The role of taskmaster is also incredibly important as the program seeks to ease the transition from
high school to college. Ensuring students understand the critical nature of deadlines is essential to the
mentor’s role. Finally, students often face difficulties as they attempt to break family cycles. The role
of encourager is invaluable to these students’ success.

tnAchieves forms partnerships with the business community to engage its employees to serve as
mentors, particularly in metropolitan areas. In 2015, 35% of mentors came from business/industry.
tnAchieves also recruits mentors from civic clubs and professional/trade associations. Finally,
tnAchieves recruits many current educators and education administrators who are comfortable
working with students. The post-secondary institution mentors also provide a familiar face on campus
during the critical first months of college.

Throughout the mentor recruitment process, tnAchieves updates its various stakeholders at least bi-
weekly. Mentor recruitment begins in June and continues through November with hundreds of events
scheduled to share the opportunity.

Randy Boyd, the former head of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development,
underlined the importance of their non-profit partners’ training of each mentor, “Mentors receive
high-level information about filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), completing
the post-secondary admissions process and all other Tennessee Promise requirements and deadlines.
Each mentor is also provided a 50-page handbook that outlines the process and provides insight on
working with the target population…The handbook includes a specific outline for their bi-weekly
communication with students.”59



Mentor/Student Interaction
Tennessee Promise mentors are asked for a one-year commitment of 10 hours, working with 5 to 10
students from the high school of their choice.60 Mentors and students work together from March of a
student’s senior year of high school through their first semester of college. Mentors and students
attend two structured meetings and communicate at least twice per month. Many mentors and
students build a stronger bond and continue working together throughout the student’s college

The first mentor meeting is in the spring of the students’ final semester of high school. The meeting
topics include the admissions process, community service, FAFSA and the summer bridge program. At
this meeting, mentors and students work on a goal-setting activity. Each student’s goal for this
activity is the same: college completion. Mentors work with students to create short-term goals and
identify opportunities and obstacles that they may face in the process of achieving their goals.

The second meeting occurs in October of the students’ first semester of college. The meeting focuses
on being a successful college student, available resources, college requirements, transferring and
graduating. At this meeting, mentors and students work on a time management activity, mapping out
their schedules and intentionally discussing more school/study time.

Communication between students and mentors can be challenging. tnAchieves helps mentors
understand successful methods of reaching students. Many students have never had an adult take an
active interest in them before, and this new relationship can take time to build. tnAchieves asks
mentors to communicate with students every two weeks to build a relationship and ensure students
know there is a consistent voice invested in their future.

tnAchieves also encourages mentors to contact the students’ parents/guardians to introduce

themselves and explain the role they will be playing. Often, the mentor becomes as much of a
resource for parents/guardians as they collectively assist the student in navigating the process.

Mentors receive a weekly email from tnAchieves every Monday, outlining details/deadlines to share
with students. The program wants to ensure that mentors remember to regularly communicate with
students but also that the information provided is accurate. Monday mentor emails also include
inspiring student stories as well as tips from other mentors. Mentors are placed into teams of four to
six and receive one another’s contact information from tnAchieves for additional support. Mentor
teams are seated together at the meetings with their students to work together through the activities,
assist each other in answering student questions, and ensure students are on track to succeed.


This summary of Tennessee’s mentoring program underlines the scope of the effort required and
makes clear the importance of having private sector partners to manage this critical process. 61

Appendix III —
Support Services for Underserved Students: The
Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative
(COSI) Experience

The following information on the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) was authored by
Shelley Banker, MSW, Director, Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative at the Colorado Department
of Higher Education

As states are challenged with limited financial resources for higher education and an increased need
to have an educated and prepared workforce, Colorado took BOLD steps to make a change. The
Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) was founded in 2014 to create a network of
student support and scholarship programs throughout Colorado to boost attainment gaps and
postsecondary credentials. The program is Colorado’s investment in our students and a progressive
shift in thinking about inequitable outcomes for students of color. COSI was founded as a public-
private partnership to fund scholarships and intentional student support services to increase
successful persistence and completion.


Using State Funds to Provide Support Services to Underserved
Written by Shelley Banker, MSW, Director, Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative at the
Colorado Department of Higher Education

The Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative was founded in 2014. Today, four principles
guide our work (1) the state must invest in innovation and affordability, (2) scholarships alone
are not enough — students need support to get to the finish line, (3) we must look to best
practices and model something that’s proven, but then adapt for our unique needs, and (4) we
need progressive shifts in thinking about how to address inequitable outcomes in our state.
The need for a degree serves as a tool of advancement for both individuals — specifically in our
most underserved populations — but also our state as a whole; educated Coloradans provide a
public value. This issue certainly is not unique to our state, but specifically in Colorado, we
have one of the highest rates of postsecondary attainment, but also one of the largest gaps
between the state’s White population and African-American or Latinx. According to Lumina
Foundation’s A Stronger Nation report, our attainment rate is 56.5%, while the national
average is 47.6%. Using the same data set, White population attainment rate is 57.2%, and we
see significant gaps with Hispanic population earning degrees and credentials at 23.1% and
African-Americans at 38%. Stacking on top of these racial disparities, Colorado ranks 47th in
annual appropriations per student, just behind Vermont and New Hampshire, according to
State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Association Research titled State Higher
Education Finance, FY 2018. The state has significant budget deficits and the value of higher
education is not perceived as a top priority by the general public.

In the first five years, COSI has awarded $47 million of state funds, leveraged $28 million in
additional local and private dollars, and has served more than 74,000 students in 61/64
Colorado counties. Internal studies using the latest available data show most COSI students
enrolled in a wraparound support service program (87%) persist in their education path, 15
percentage points higher than peers of similar demographic groups. Students who receive
COSI scholarships perform even better: 89% continue in their second and third years,
outpacing their non-COSI counterparts by 25 percentage points.

Of the 6,301 COSI scholarship recipients identified in the Colorado Department of Higher
Education database (SURDS), approximately 64% were students of color (39.4% identified as
Hispanic). About two-thirds (66%) of COSI scholarship recipient were female, and nearly three-
quarters (74%) were identified as eligible to receive a federal Pell grant. Furthermore, of the
13,042 COSI wraparound support service program students identified in the Colorado
Department of Higher Education database (SURDS) and the Colorado Department of
Education high school graduates file, approximately 78% were students of color (49% identify

as Hispanic), and 53% were female. Of the 3,438 postsecondary students, more than two-thirds
(68%) were identified as eligible to receive a federal Pell grant. The median age of COSI
scholarship recipients and wrap around support program students in college was 20, but
student ages ranged from 16 to 67. Compared to the sample of non-COSI students attending
the same institutions, COSI wraparound support service students were much more likely to be
students of color, female, and Pell eligible.

We are learning along the way - internally we like to say we are “flying the plane as we build it.”
Our bold risk-taking has allowed us to scale quickly and reflect on our learnings to restructure
and improve program efficiency as we go. Moreover, these experiences have allowed our staff
to think deeply about our scope and ways we can maximize student outcomes, alongside our
grantees, and create helpful tools for the public such as Policy Guidebook and the Pre-
Collegiate and Postsecondary Guidebooks. Thanks to ongoing rigorous analysis, we are poised
for robust, scalable growth, aligning with Colorado Department of Higher Education goals set
out by the Master Plan, Colorado Rises, to increase credential completion, erase equity gaps,
improve student success and invest in affordability and innovation.

Importance of Student Supports

COSI knows that students must have support alongside student scholarships. This component
was written into the original law, stating that students needed to participate in “rigor-based”
support programming. Over the past five years, COSI has gathered data on the most promising
and productive services, including the Department’s very own success program called the
Colorado Challenge. COSI funds those models and encourages partners to enroll scholarship
recipients in these types of programs. It’s a win for the institution because students continue
to enroll and be successful in their coursework, but as a state, more students are collectively
persisting and completing.

How the Models were Developed

Through site visit observations and two years of outcome data, supplemented by a literature
review, the COSI team gained a better understanding of best practices for student support
services at the pre-collegiate and postsecondary levels. To leverage the limited availability of
student support funds throughout the state, staff realigned support grants to emphasize
programs that employ evidence-based strategies and are currently demonstrating success. To
provide equitable access to supportive services throughout the state, grants were designed to
focus on intensive services for students at K-12 schools/ districts and area institutions of higher
education in regional clusters.

Partnership and Alignment of State Goals

Clusters could include community partnerships among institutions and nonprofits and/or

state agencies. Together, these partnerships were intended to provide holistic student support
for postsecondary attainment from high school to and through credential completion. The
individual grantee organization’s work was required to contribute to the Colorado Department
of Higher Education’s strategic plan goals through effective implementation of their respective
student support program goals. By coordinating communication and collaborative events,
partners within the cluster systems would create an educational pipeline for students to
increase postsecondary enrollment and ultimately credential attainment.

Grants focus on one of two distinct models building a comprehensive program model to
connect secondary Pre-collegiate, College and Career Centers (CCC) and Postsecondary,
Student Support Service Programs (SSS); establish more rigorous program metrics and
evaluation; support recipients of the COSI Matching Student Scholarship (MSS) grant; and
recipients receive intentional technical assistance to help grantees use evidence-based
strategies and demonstrate their success.

The first round of grants in the new model wrap up June 30, 2020. COSI then intends to provide
grant funding to expand the work now in four-year grants using the same models and formats
beginning July 1, 2020.

Additional Resources
Our Policy Guidebook62 is intended to share our program’s rich history, learnings and
opportunities for growth, and structure so that other states and programs can learn from
where we’ve been and where we’re going.
The Pre-Collegiate63 and Postsecondary 64 Guidebooks based on best practice research walk
you step by step how to set-up your program and it even includes curriculum for first year and
senior success courses. COSI would like to share how our history and passion to serve students
in our Centennial state has shaped our forward vision to serve thousands more Colorado
students and magnify educational opportunities for decades to come.



Appendix IV —
Successful Strategies for Improving Promise
Students’ College Completion Rates

Lessons from 15 Years of MDRC’s Postsecondary Research

MDRC is a nonpartisan nonprofit committed to finding solutions to some of the most difficult
problems facing the nation – from reducing poverty and bolstering economic self-sufficiency to
improving public education and college graduation rates. MDRC designs promising new interventions,
evaluates existing programs using the highest research standards, and provides technical assistance
to build better programs and deliver effective interventions at scale. MDRC is providing hands-on
evidence-based technical assistance to a number of college Promise programs across the country and
is actively engaged in disseminating best practices and tools to the over 300 College Promise and Free
College programs through the College Promise Success Initiative (CPSI), a collaboration with the
College Promise Campaign and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) Association.
State policymakers can use the lessons from MDRC’s research to bolster their free college tuition
programs for the benefit of the students they serve. All the tools from CPSI, including past webinars on
best practices, can be found at

Low-income students in college face many challenges, including the cost of postsecondary education
and competing demands on their time from work or family obligations. They may not be prepared for
college academically. They may also lack the skills and experiences other students rely on to help
them navigate college, or the social support that can help them overcome challenges in college. MDRC
has developed a deep body of evidence on interventions designed to help low-income college
students succeed. This issue brief looks back over 15 years of rigorous evidence to draw lessons that
can help colleges and policymakers as they work to improve college completion rates for low-income

Combining evidence-based strategies that address different factors increases the odds
of big effects.

MDRC has found that short-term interventions like financial awards and enhanced guidance have
small effects. When these strategies are combined, however, they can have much larger effects. The

City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) 65, for example,
nearly doubled the number of students who graduated with associate’s degrees within three years,
and a follow-up demonstration of ASAP in Ohio shows that the program can be replicated with similar
early results. 66 A different program, the Detroit Promise Path, gives students additional financial
support if they meet regularly with academic coaches. It has also produced large, early impacts. 67

Frequent advising and coaching are vital strategies to increase academic progress.

MDRC research on projects that include advising (such as Opening Doors 68, CUNY ASAP69, the ASAP
Ohio Demonstration70, and the Detroit Promise Path71) suggests that advising or coaching works best
when an adviser actively and frequently makes contact with students instead of waiting for them to
show up, and when each adviser works consistently with the same group of students. Research on
other programs supports this conclusion. (See, for example, research on InsideTrack. 72)

Approaches inspired by behavioral science can increase participation and keep students
moving forward.

Insights from behavioral science can help colleges see the unnecessary hindrances or hassles that
may be in students’ paths. Simple adjustments such as reminders or clearer presentation of
information can boost the numbers of students who go to advising sessions, submit their financial aid
applications, or enroll in summer courses. MDRC is increasingly applying these insights to its work in
postsecondary education. For example, several MDRC studies show that students can earn more
credits if they are encouraged to enroll in summer and winter intersessions and are given financial
support to do so. 73 Research by other organizations suggests that summer courses can help students
stay in school and increase their odds of completion. 74









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Attewell and Sou Hyun Jang,

Insights from regular analyses of data can be used to help students make greater use of
available services and to ensure programs are producing the desired effects.

MDRC has studied several programs that have used innovative management information systems.
Staff members can employ these systems to monitor student activity, respond quickly when students
veer off track, reach out to students when it appears they might be having trouble, and reinforce
positive behavior with incentives or messages when appropriate.

Though it can be difficult to change instructional practices, it is possible.

MDRC and its partners have conducted research at institutions that have accomplished major changes
in structure and content through concerted effort. Institutions have successfully changed teaching
practices in both the Dana Center’s Mathematics Pathways75 and CUNY Start76 projects, for example,
and there are early signs that these changes are helping students. Still, there is little rigorous evidence
about instructional practices, and the field needs guidance about how to improve teaching.

Strong interventions are not enough. More fundamental change at the institutional level
is probably needed to achieve large increases in completion.

Finding highly effective strategies is not enough to improve outcomes on a large scale, especially
when those strategies require a major reallocation or commitment of resources. MDRC has also
studied institution-level initiatives such as Achieving the Dream77 and Completion by Design78, and has
observed how difficult it is for colleges to change practices system-wide and substantially alter the
experiences of large numbers of students.


Learning from Success
MDRC has helped the Detroit Promise Program put their rigorous research findings into action by
developing the Detroit Promise Path, a student support program that is showing encouraging early
results. Detroit is one of six Promise programs working with MDRC to use evidence-driven best
practices to improve outcomes for students, and MDRC’s evaluation of Detroit Promise Path has found

76 -start-and-other-strategies


notable positive impacts for students. Adding the support components described below has improved
students’ rates of persistence in school and their credit accumulation. Of particular note, the program
has helped more students enroll in school full time and complete a full-time course load, as well as
nearly tripling students’ likelihood of taking summer courses.

The Detroit Promise scholarship, administered by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, allows
the city’s high school graduates to attend local colleges tuition-free. But while the scholarship
reduced financial barriers to attending college, many students faced other issues and dropped out
before graduation. To help, MDRC partnered with the Chamber to develop a student success program
based on proven-effective support services. The Detroit Promise Path (DPP) launched in 2016 to assist
scholarship recipients at the five community colleges participating in Detroit Promise. Early findings
from MDRC’s79 rigorous evaluation have shown encouraging impacts on students’ enrollment and
persistence. 80


Highlighted below are the top four implementation lessons from the first two years of the Detroit
Promise Path. These lessons reflect student experiences that could be relevant to other College
Promise and student success programs across the country.

STUDENTS STILL FACE FINANCIAL AID ISSUES: Even with the Detroit Promise scholarship in

place, nearly half the students in DPP reported financial aid issues. FAFSA verification was
singled out as a particular problem. Long aid processing times caused some students to be
dropped from courses for not paying tuition, or even to miss enrollment deadlines altogether.
Promise programs should not assume that their scholarships mean students won’t face financial
aid barriers to enrollment. Staff members should send students and colleges clear messages
about financial aid requirements. Staff members can also institute a fail-safe system to check
student lists before deadlines and make sure Promise students aren’t dropped from classes.


CONNECTED: A noteworthy success of DPP was coaches’ continued engagement with students
who did not enroll, especially those who were unable to enroll due to financial aid issues. Many
students who intended to enroll but experienced challenges felt discouraged and ready to give
up until their coaches walked them through the process to enroll in the next semester.
Continuously engaging with students can go a long way toward ensuring that the Promise is
serving all eligible students. In DPP, the management information system allowed coaches to
target students with different messages based on enrollment status, making it much easier for them to continue
reaching out to these students.


students “cold” for the first time in late summer by text and email, introducing themselves and
encouraging students to set up in-person meetings to prepare for college. More than 95% of
students responded, reflecting a tremendous appetite for assistance. Persistent, proactive
outreach paid off: Some students who did not respond before school started came to coaches
later when they faced questions or issues on campus. Coaches were able to provide individual
assistance to students and boost their self-confidence by, for example, helping them practice
talking to faculty members. Building students’ motivation was especially important. Nearly all students reported
that it made a big difference to them to have someone who understood the college’s culture and who could
keep them focused on the positive changes sure to follow from degree attainment. In particular, students valued
having coaches who shared their socioeconomic background, as they felt they could discuss difficult issues
without being judged.


can reduce financial anxiety and help more students consider college – but students need to
know what is covered and what they have to do to keep their scholarships. Many DPP students
reported having trouble paying for things like textbooks and bus passes, and they relied on the
$50 monthly incentive to cover these expenses. DPP created a calendar for students with
requirements and dates for each month’s incentive, and the management information system
now sends text messages when the $50 cards have been refilled. This way, students know
exactly when to expect funds and can plan accordingly.

Appendix V-VI Introduction

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Open Education Resources (OER) can both be incorporated
in state programs that make college tuition free to reduce cost, enhance effectiveness and/or provide
additional benefits to residents.

Companies of all shapes and sizes are moving beyond the traditional concepts of “charitable giving”
and implementing powerful, meaningful, and deeply ingrained Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
programs that are creating social impact and improving lives in big ways. This trend creates an
opportunity for state leaders to work with their leading corporations in support of free college tuition

Similarly, states, schools, and faculty are turning to Open Education Resources (OER) to address the
rising cost of textbooks. As a 2013 survey research shows, many students are not purchasing required
books/materials because of cost. High quality OER materials – which are distributed freely with legal
permission to use, share, and build upon the content – can help students achieve as good or better
grades and course completion rates.

Appendix V —
Leveraging Corporate Social Responsibility

This new trend towards large scale CSR is already manifesting itself in ways that are helping make
college tuition free in America.

Starbucks’ College Achievement Program (SCAP) is among the largest and most successful examples
of this.81 Introduced in 2014, the program creates an opportunity for eligible U.S. partners (Starbucks
Employees) to earn bachelor’s degrees with full tuition reimbursement. Starbucks is committed to
helping at least 25,000 partners graduate from Arizona State University (ASU) through one of its more
than 60 online undergraduate degree programs by 2025. There is no commitment to stay with
Starbucks after graduation and partners can pursue any degree.


By the end of 2018, approximately 2,300 partners have earned an ASU degree. While the Starbucks
College Achievement Program’s innovative model is an authentic and meaningful effort by a company
to help young people achieve the dream of earning a degree and should be used as an example for
other companies to follow, the program has also aided with employee retention. According to an April
2018 CNBC article “employees that were enrolled in its college program were 1.5 times more likely to
stay with the brand and are being promoted at 2.5 times the rate of those that are not enrolled.” 82

There is no reason not to approach leading corporations in your state and suggest they follow
Starbucks’ lead in this area. At the very least, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they should be
open to a conversation about how they can help with your state’s proposed Promise program.

A recent annual Business and Politics report, by the research and public affairs firm Global Strategy
Group, found that in 2019 nearly 8 of 10 Americans (79%) believe that corporations should take action
to address important issues facing society, and 87% believe corporations have the power to influence
change.83 Millennials are most likely to choose businesses and employment opportunities with
companies that believe in CSR. In fact:

● 81% of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products;

● 49% have turned down jobs in contrast with their professional ethics; and

● More than 50% are willing to give up 20% of their salary to work for a company that makes
corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.84

In sum, demonstrating a company’s commitment to their social responsibility is becoming an

increasingly important strategy to build market share and retain employees. Companies are finding
that CSR programs benefit their bottom line because they are a great way to engage consumers,
employees and other stakeholders.



Here are some ideas on how state policymakers can take advantage of this trend:

● Making college tuition free for employees and their families – Companies can create
programs and/or endowments that pay for college tuition, allowing qualified employees to
earn their degrees by either attending classes part-time at a local community or state college
or by taking leaves of absence to complete their full-time education. Companies could extend
the benefits to include family members of employees, namely their children. These types of
programs could be brought to scale through partnerships with local education institutions
and governments that could help companies conceptualize their programs. If a state creates
the type of Dynamic Endowment Fund (DEF) described in Chapter IV, it becomes the perfect
vehicle for companies to become involved financially in a state Promise program.

● Invest in local community Promise programs – Community Promise programs that pay for
part or all tuition expenses for qualified students are popping up all over the country. 85 These
programs often rely on the generosity of private benefactors for support. Corporate dollars
could play an outsized role in sustaining and dramatically expanding community Promise
programs thereby building a foundation of support for a statewide effort in the future.

● Partner with government and education institutions to help raise awareness among K-12
families on the importance of going to college – Students from families that make plans for
their child to attend college early in life have a higher rate of college enrollment than those
who don’t. Helping families understand the importance of college planning, identifying
college affordability programs that can help with costs, even helping to fund Children Savings


Accounts as’s CEO has done in Oakland, CA, are all ways that companies could
help create a college going culture, which is the ultimate goal of any Promise program.

● Support mentorship programs – Companies can partner with government and educational
institutions to develop and launch mentorship programs that help students at all levels
manage the burdens of college. As described in Appendix I, the mentoring program for
Tennessee’s Promise program is run by non-profits who partner with leading employers to
help recruit the thousands of mentors the program requires. One observer commented wryly
that by the time tnAchieves was done recruiting mentors, every employee of FedEx would be
serving as a mentor to at least one high school student in the state.

● Create a customized solution that fits the needs of your state – CSR programs are often
custom tailored to the place where a company operates. This is especially true when it comes
to technical training at a local community college which often tailor programs to the needs of
local employers. States can create incentives for such partnerships through innovation grants
or tax credits and ask companies, in return, to provide scholarships and other financial
support for a program, which is, in effect, training their workers for free.

CSR programs come in many shapes and sizes, and the unique way in which your state and your
corporate partners tackle the challenge of college affordability may just become the next big
innovation in higher education reform.

Other notable companies that help employees pay for college include:



Appendix VI —
Leveraging Open Education Resources (OER)

The rising cost of higher education is about more than just tuition. Students face a multitude of
expenses that can impact their ability to afford their degree. Textbook costs have emerged as a major

contributing factor. The College Board estimates the cost of books and supplies to be $1,250 at four-
year public institutions and $1,390 at two-year public institutions. Textbook retail prices have risen
88% over the last decade – faster than tuition and fees. Recent studies have found this has a negative
impact on students. About two out of every three students report that they skip buying some of their
required materials because of costs, despite many who believe doing so could harm their grades. 86

Open Educational Resources as a Solution

States, schools and faculty are working to solve this problem by replacing expensive, traditional
textbooks with open educational resources (OER). OER are high quality educational materials that are
distributed freely with legal permission to use, share, and build upon the content. OER are created
through a variety of models including start-up companies, non-profit publishers, and the work of
individual scholars. Complete open textbooks are available for many of the highest enrollment
courses already. Use of these materials has proven not only to reduce costs, but to also help students
achieve as good or better grades and course completion rates. 87

Leveraging OER to Reduce Costs

State and system leaders can take meaningful actions to reduce or eliminate college textbook costs
through OER. Nearly half of all states have adopted some form of program or policy to support the
creation, adoption, or curation of OER. Cases where states have invested funding in OER programs
have resulted in an exponential return on investment – something rare in higher education. While it
will always be the right of individual faculty to select how they teach their courses, much can be done
to provide support to faculty who are interested in using affordable, effective OER.

High-Level Endorsements
One of the biggest barriers with OER is raising awareness. While high quality OER are available across
many subjects, many faculty and students remain unaware that it is an option. A strong, visible
statement made by a governor, top-level administrator, or state agency can direct tremendous
attention to an issue.

Example: Rhode Island - In the fall of 2016, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo issued
a challenge to the state’s higher education institutions to save students $5 million over 5
years through the use of open textbooks. The announcement brought more than half of
RI’s institutions to the table, and within the first two months, the initiative has already
begun saving students money.88

86 Fixing Broken Textbooks Report1.pdf



Task Forces
Some states have created a task force or consortium to lead OER work. Task forces can be beneficial
because they bring many institutions to the table and allow the work to be guided by the stakeholders
it will affect. Creation of a task force can be accomplished through state appropriations, authorizing
legislation, or a resolution.

Example: Connecticut - In 2015, Connecticut passed legislation creating a task force of

faculty, administrators, and students. With a combination of a state appropriation and
private funding, the University of Connecticut was able to introduce open textbooks on
campus. The University Libraries surveyed faculty about the use of open textbooks,
created online workshops for faculty development, and adapted an existing general
chemistry textbook. It is estimated that Connecticut students will save more than $1
million per school year.

System-Wide Initiatives
Part of the value of OER is that once created, these resources can be shared and used by other
institutions. College and university systems have therefore found success in coordinating initiatives.
Support and strategic guidance from the system level can help guide effective local action.

Example: North Dakota - The North Dakota University System launched a multi-pronged
initiative to encourage OER creation and use at public institutions within the state. This
included the adoption of OER policy language in the system’s strategic plan, a rigorous
survey evaluating faculty awareness and interest in OER, professional development for
faculty, and – with support through a $110,000 appropriation from the state legislature –
grants to faculty members who want to begin using OER. The initiative has already saved
students an estimated $2 million, and by 2018 is expected to save students $4-5 million
per year.

State-Led Initiatives
States themselves can lead initiatives, working through agencies or government offices. This can
include activities similar to system-led initiatives, except efforts are driven by the state. Often state
agencies that oversee higher education are involved, and programs are most effective when there is
legislative funding for staff and programming attached.

Example: Oregon - In 2015, Oregon passed legislation requiring the state’s Higher
Education Coordinating Commission to establish an OER grant program and hire a staff
person to oversee it.89 The bill also requires public post-secondary institutions to
prominently mark courses whose course materials exclusively consist of open or free


textbooks. The legislature appropriated $700,000 to support the program, and the
projected savings are $1.7 million.

Zero Textbook Cost Degrees

One of the latest trends in OER is efforts to develop entire degree programs that use OER in every
single course. This concentrates the benefits of OER along a degree pathway, delivering significant
savings to students and resulting in demonstrated increases in course completion.

Example: California - In 2016, the California government appropriated $5 million to

support the creation of Zero Textbook Cost Degrees at the state’s community colleges.
Among the justifications for the program were that the more than 100 institutions in that
system could easily share and build upon each other’s work, so investing in one degree at
one college, could lead to multiple degrees at multiple colleges. This follows a nationwide
trend pioneered by Tidewater Community College in Virginia, and a 38-campus initiative
led by the non-profit Achieving the Dream launched earlier this year.

More Information
SPARC OER State Policy Playbook
Creative Commons OER State Legislative Guide
content/uploads/2018/01/OER-State- Legislative-Guide.pdf


Open Textbook Library
Lumen Learning
OER Commons
Boundless Learning

Open Textbook Alliance
Open Textbook Network
Achieving the Dream
Creative Commons

Other Resources for Policymakers

Web Resources
W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research - Kalamazoo Promise and Place-Based Scholarships

College Promise Campaign - Research

University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy - Promise Program Catalog

Education Commission of the States - Free College and Adult Student Populations

National Conference of State Legislatures - Free Community College

State Higher Education Executive Officers Association - Adult Promise Program: A Pilot Design
Template for States

American Association of State Colleges and Universities -The Promises and Pitfalls of State Free
Community College Plans, May 2016

Promise Programs: Impact on Educational Performance and Economic Development - A presentation
by Professors Michelle Miller-Adams, W. E. Upjohn Research Institute and Grand Valley State College, and
Jennifer Iriti, Evaluation for Learning Group, University of Pittsburgh

The Case for Free Public Higher Education - A presentation by Sara Goldrick Rab, Professor of Higher
Education Policy and Sociology at Temple University

About the Campaign for Free College Tuition

The Campaign for Free College Tuition (CFCT) is a bi-partisan, inter-generational coalition of
individuals and groups who believe today's economy requires the country to make higher education
affordable for everyone if we are going to have a workforce with the skills needed for us to compete in
the global marketplace. Established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2014, CFCT has been at the forefront of
the free college tuition movement since its inception.

Contact Information
Web —
Facebook —
Twitter — @freecollegenow
Email —

Advisory Council

The Honorable James Blanchard

Former Governor of Michigan

Governor Blanchard's eight years as Michigan's chief executive were notable for his success in
turning around Michigan's finances, working with the private sector to attract business
investment and trade from around the world. He won national acclaim for his innovative
approaches to economic development, education, crime fighting, environmental protection and
helping children and families.

On January 1, 1983, he took over what was described as "the toughest governor's job in America."
His state faced a US$1.7 billion deficit, the threat of bankruptcy, record high unemployment of
more than 17% and the worst credit rating in America. Working with leaders of business, labor,
education and local government, the governor put together a strategy for Michigan's future and
made the tough decisions necessary to keep it on track. James Blanchard completed his work as
Michigan's 45th governor having balanced eight consecutive state budgets, boosted the state's
credit rating to AA, established a US$422 million "rainy-day fund" and produced a solvency
dividend of more than US$1 billion in savings from reduced borrowing costs. He was reelected
1986 by the largest margin of any governor in Michigan history.

Newsweek credited Governor Blanchard with leading "one of the most dramatic economic
turnabouts in the recent history of state government," and national publications such as US News
and World Report listed him among the best governors in America, one of the innovators and
energizers who made things work in an era of declining federal aid.

Before running for governor, he served four terms in Congress where he distinguished himself for
his work to save the Chrysler Corporation, restore America's economic competitiveness, and
oversee financial, monetary, trade and energy issues.

Following his serve as Governor, Blanchard was named U.S. ambassador to Canada. During his
three-year tenure as ambassador, he managed a broad range of trade, natural resources,
environmental and national security issues between the United States and Canada, providing
support critical to the passage of both NAFTA and the Open Skies Agreement.

Blanchard is currently the Chair Emeritus, Government Affairs Practice Group, at DLA Piper. In
1997, Governor Blanchard authored Behind the Embassy Door, a book highlighting his experiences
as ambassador.

The Honorable Gina Raimondo

Governor of Rhode Island

Gina M. Raimondo, the 75th Governor of Rhode Island and its first woman governor, grew up in
Smithfield in a tight-knit Italian-American family, the youngest of Joseph and Josephine
Raimondo's three children. Gina's family history and her childhood experiences shaped her core
beliefs in hard work, opportunity for all, and the importance of financial security.

After arriving from Italy at age 14, her grandfather learned English studying in the Providence
Public Library and later lived with Gina's family. Her father was a World War II Navy veteran from a
family of butchers and became the first in his family to attend college thanks to the GI Bill. After
working for 26 years at Bulova watch factory in Providence, Joseph lost his job along with
hundreds of others when the factory moved overseas, and the Raimondo family lost their sense of
financial security.

As a teenager, Gina rode a RIPTA bus to LaSalle Academy in Providence, where she was
valedictorian of her graduating class. She went on to graduate with honors from Harvard, where
she was recognized as the top economics student in her class. She won a Rhodes Scholarship to
Oxford University where she earned a doctorate and met her future husband Andy Moffit. She later
graduated from Yale Law School. Gina clerked for US District Judge Kimba Wood and served as
founding employee and senior vice president at Village Ventures. Missing Rhode Island and
wanting to be closer to her family, Gina co-founded Point Judith Capital, an early stage venture
capital firm.

In November 2010, Gina was elected to serve as General Treasurer of Rhode Island, receiving the
largest number of votes of any statewide candidate. When Gina took office as General Treasurer,
she tackled the state's $7 billion unfunded pension liability. She was sworn into office as Governor
in January 2015 and won a second term this past November with the largest victory Rhode Island
has seen in more than a generation.

Governor Raimondo knows that investing in Rhode Island’s students from Pre-K to college is
investing in the state’s future. During her time in office, she has implemented universal all-day
kindergarten and fought to expand Rhode Island’s nationally-recognized, high-quality public pre-
K program. She believes that every Rhode Island child--regardless of their race, socioeconomic
status or zip code—deserves a strong start.

Gina also believes that all students should have access to the skills they need to get high-wage,
high-demand jobs in today’s economy. As Governor, she’s fought for tiered reimbursement to
improve access to high quality child care, and launched CS4RI, making Rhode Island the first state
in America to offer computer science in every public school. She also led the fight to make a $1
billion investment in school construction so every child has a chance to learn in an environment
that’s warm, safe, dry and equipped for the 21st century.

College affordability is one of the Governor’s top priorities, and she’s committed to removing
financial barriers that stand between students and their career goals. Thanks to her leadership,
PSAT and SAT testing is available for free and during the school day at every public high school in
the state. SAT participation has increased by 20% in the years since. In 2017, Gina announced the
Rhode Island Promise Scholarship. After it passed the state legislature, Rhode Island became the
fourth state in America to offer tuition free community college to every high school graduate.


The Honorable Bill Halter

Former Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas


The Honorable Bob Carr

Adjunct Professor, The George Washington University

Dr. Janice M. Brown

Chair of the Board of Trustees and Executive Director Emeritus, Kalamazoo Promise

Donald Fowler
Adjunct Professor, University of South Carolina and Former DNC National Chair

Krissy DeAlejandro
Executive Director, tnAchieves

Ted M. Kahn
Ph.D., CEO, DesignWorlds for Learning, Inc. & DesignWorlds for College & Careers

Meghan Hughes
President, Community College of Rhode Island

Robert Samuels
Author and Former President UC-AFT

Ashley Johnson
Executive Director, Detroit College Access Network (DCAN)

Robert Shapiro
Founder and Chairman, Sonecon, LLC

Elaine Kamark
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

Paul Weinstein, Jr.

Program Director, The Johns Hopkins University

Sarah Pingel
Senior Policy Analyst, Education Commission of the States

Further details about the CFCT Advisory Council, as well as full bios on all Members, can be found at

Board of Directors
Morley Winograd
President & CEO, The Campaign for Free College Tuition

Morley Winograd is a nationally known expert on the millennial generation. He is co-author

(with Mike Hais) of three highly acclaimed books, “Millennial Momentum” (2011), “Millennial
Makeover” (2008), and “Millennial Majority” (2013) on the impact the generation will have on
America’s future. Morley is also a Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s
Annenberg School’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. He served as senior
policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore during the second term of the Clinton administration
and directed its reinventing government efforts.

Harris Miller
Vice President, The Campaign for Free College Tuition

Harris Miller previously served as CEO of two large trade associations, TechAmerica (then
known as the Information Technology Association of America) and the Association of Private
Sector Colleges and Universities. He has also worked in senior staff positions in both the U.S.
House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and in Jimmy Carter’s Administration. In addition,
Miller served as Research Assistant in the British House of Commons to the Rt. Hon. Lord
Roper, then John Roper, MP. He has a BA summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh
and an MPhil in political science from Yale. He has been published in academic and non-
academic journals, and has been a guest speaker at conferences throughout the US and
around the world.

Laird Harris
Secretary/Treasurer, The Campaign for Free College Tuition

Prior to founding his public affairs firm in 1987, Laird served as assistant director of the
Community Services Administration during the Carter administration and Chief Policy
Assistant for Governor Booth Gardner of Washington. As a consultant, Laird provides public
affairs and strategic communication planning services, facilitates efforts to resolve disputes
and identify common interests among government and private sector officials, and works with
executives and boards of directors on strategic planning. Laird also has extensive campaign
management experience and teaches strategic communications at the University of

Aaron Straus Garcia

Board Member, The Campaign for Free College Tuition

Aaron Straus Garcia is a communications strategist with specific expertise in organizational
management, digital strategy, brand advocacy and online community organizing. Aaron first
began working with the Campaign for Free College Tuition (CFCT) in 2014 and played a vital
role in the organization’s launch and early development.

Aaron currently oversees business development at Global Strategy Group (GSG). In this
capacity, he works with members of the GSG team in crafting detailed and creative proposals
that aim to solve pressing communications and strategic challenges for a wide range of
clients. Prior to joining GSG, Aaron was Managing Partner at Veracity Media, a digital strategy
and web development shop based in Washington, D.C. He co-founded Veracity Media in 2012
and also co-launched an initiative called Rethink Leadership, to encourage more young
people to run for local elected office. Aaron also has extensive political campaign experience,
including working for Obama for America in 2008.

Aaron earned his bachelors degree in Media and Communications from Suffolk University,
Boston in 2009.

David B. Wolf
Board Member, The Campaign for Free College Tuition

David was born in Dayton, Ohio but grew up in Los Angeles. He received a BS in Mechanical
Engineering from UC, Berkeley, where he also completed an MA in Economics. While pursuing
a PhD at Stanford, a Washington, DC internship began a career in higher education.

He served primarily in California community colleges, including vice presidencies and

presidencies in several institutions. He concluded his career as Executive Director of the
Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Since retiring in 2001 he has
been involved with a number of non-profit organizations, creating the Campaign for College
Opportunity and two others with his colleague, the late Stephen Weiner.