State and Local College Promise Programs: Examining Policy and Practice

Statewide College Promise programs are becoming increasingly common as college costs and student debt rise. Yet to date there has been little to no systematic research that closely examines how these programs are constructed or how they function. There is no “one way” to do statewide Promise; these programs vary substantially and are constrained by a range of fiscal and political factors. Policymakers and researchers need tools to meaningfully distinguish between different statewide Promise approaches, and to determine whether and how this type of reform can be used to address state goals and reduce equity gaps given specific state contexts.

RFA has completed a 2.5 year research project that begins to fill these gaps. Based on comparative analysis of variation across 21 statewide Promise programs and four in-depth case studies, our results provide concrete, practical considerations for state policymakers and other stakeholders.

A suite of products summarizes our results and includes the following:

This research was supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It also includes case studies by Penn AHEAD of local Promise programs in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Special note: Several new statewide Promise programs have emerged since this study was conducted which are not accounted for in this total.  For example,  New Jersey began fully implementing a new statewide promise program in 2019-20 that allows all undocumented students to participate, regardless of DACA status.  

Project director: Dr. Kate Callahan (

Research team:

  • Victoria Ballerini, Ph.D.
  • Kri Burkander, Ph.D.
  • Shanell Hagood
  • Daniel C. Kent
  • Kasey Meehan
  • Kate Shaw, Ph.D.
  • Graduate assistants: Visha Patel and Gabriel Gutierrez-Aragon