State and county promise programs are expanding or developing across the nation with the goal of helping qualified students enroll in community college courses. Perhaps the most visible promise program is Tennessee’s “Free Community College” program, which President Obama and other elected and appointed officials have endorsed.
While some states have not implemented statewide promise programs, some of their counties have—this is the case in both Kalamazoo and Northport, Michigan, and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to the College Promise Campaign, the national effort endorsing and supporting these programs, there are now 150 promise programs in 37 states.
These programs are not all created equal and are funded in different ways. While Tennessee’s “free community college/promise program” is funded with lottery revenue, Oregon’s is funded by an appropriation from the legislature. However, many of the basic requirements for these programs are the same or similar, like income and GPA requirements, and all require completion of the Free Application for Federal for Student Aid (FAFSA).
In upcoming legislative sessions, it is likely that we will see more states develop free community college or promise programs—even in states like Illinois that have severe fiscal challenges. In fact, Illinois state Sen. Will Guzzardi (D) has already pledged to introduce “tuition free” college in the 2017 legislative session.