Trends in Higher Education: College Promise Programs

College promise programs have spread throughout the nation as a way for individual institutions and states to expand access to higher education for students with demonstrated need. The goal of college promise programs is to cover the cost of college for qualifying students when other types of aid, such as federal and state grants, fall short.

Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Tennessee, Oregon, California and many other states, systems, and institutions are all taking part in some form of a college promise program. Soon, Utah will also offer a statewide promise program. Just this week, Governor Herbert signed into law HB 260, Access Utah Promise Scholarship (Rep. Derrin Owens), which will assist Utah students of limited means by covering tuition and fees for the first four semesters at public state colleges, universities, and technical colleges. The scholarship is patterned after the existing Dream Weber and SLCC Promise programs.

Complete College America, the College Promise Campaign, and Achieving the Dream released a report in 2018, Promise with a Purpose: College Promise Programs “Built for Completion” as a joint effort to advocate for states, cities, and institutions to incorporate an intentional framework for student success into existing College Promise programs across the nation.

Higher education promise programs must be built for access and completion, says the report, noting that an increased investment in education needs to be met with an increased focus on student progress, an emphasis on education quality, and a commitment to providing a better return on investment for students, families, and the public.

To address the barriers to student success, the report suggests promise programs be “Built for Completion” by improving structures and pathways within higher education which will, in turn, lead to increased student success.

Guided pathways provide students with a clear academic purpose and a path to follow semester-by-semester. Students also receive proactive advising support along their pathway to completion.

Evidence shows promise scholarship recipients are most likely to graduate if they:

  • Complete 30 credits per year
  • Meet periodically (at least monthly) with their assigned counselor or advisor
  • Visit personally with each of their instructors

The Utah System of Higher Education is working toward guided pathways for increased college completion at USHE institutions among other efforts such as high impact practices, competency-based education and Degrees When Due.

USHE’s guided pathways are designed to assist incoming, transfer, and returning college students to enroll in and complete the appropriate classes/curriculum for meeting their educational goals. Assistance from pathways to completion starts with the first year of enrollment, transfer, or re-enrollment and continues through to program completion.

  • The USHE meta-major (an area of study or cluster of disciplines) working group worked over the past two years to identify and align meta-majors across the system and to identify appropriate math pathways for those meta-majors.
  • Majors Committees meet annually to align lower-division courses within programs.
  • The Adult Learner Working Group actively engages with adult learners to learn how to best meet their needs and institutions are already engaged in adult reengagement campaigns designed to bring adult learners back to college.
  • Some USHE institutions have designed co-remediation math and English courses.
  • Utah is an alliance member of Complete College America and USHE sends a team to CCA convenings annually.
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Trisha Dugovic
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