Results Show the Power of Promise

Posted by Morley Winograd on October 24, 2017 at 6:01 AM

While the school year is only several months old, there are already great results to report about programs making public colleges tuition free in Tennessee, Rhode Island, and New York. In Tennessee, data from the initial cohort of Tennessee Promise recipients shows that they are persisting in their community college careers at a rate 17 percent greater than those who do not have a TN Promise scholarship. Both Rhode Island and New York launched their Promise programs to make public colleges tuition free this Fall with very aggressive implementation schedules. In both states, initial participation data demonstrates the power of programs that make college tuition free.



An examination of the first cohort of Tennessee Promise students enrolling in one of the state’s 13 community college shows a 56.2 percent success rate with 39 percent of them still enrolled in community college, 14.5 percent earning an associate degree or certificate, and 2.7 percent transferring to a four-year college/university. This compares to 38.9 percent success for non-Promise peers – 30.5 percent were still enrolled, 5.3 percent earning a degree or certificate, and 3.1 percent transferring.

Flora Tydings, who oversees the state’s community colleges as Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, said “these numbers are the first evidence that Tennessee Promise is doing exactly what Governor Haslam and the General Assembly designed – getting more students into college, including students who might not otherwise be able to attend, and helping them succeed once they get there.”

But Tennessee officials, including Governor Bill Haslam (R), acknowledge that more needs to be done to reduce the number of students who drop out of college without a degree. He said, “a lot of our efforts in the remaining year-and-a-half that we have in office will be around how we dramatically increase the percentage of students who complete.” To this end, he is looking to include in his final budget as governor additional funds for advising and other student support programs.


Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s Promise has increased enrollment of full-time Community College of Rhode Island students directly from high school by a staggering 47 percent. This cohort of students will top 1,400 when final numbers are released.

Rhode Island College also recently received a $650,000 gift from the Hassenfeld Family Foundation to launch the “Rhode Island Promise Plus” program, which will offer up to $500 to Pell-eligible RI Promise students who complete specified college success milestones. According to a CCRI press release, there are five milestones during the first year that eligible RI Promise student will receive $100 for each one completed.

Approximately 800 RI Promise students are eligible for federal Pell grants. We at the Campaign for Free College Tuition will be watching these interventions closely and look forward to reporting on their success, as well the success of the underlying Promise, in the coming months and years.


New York

Due to the addition of students receiving the Excelsior Scholarship, the nation’s first state program that makes both two- and four-year public colleges tuition free, approximately 53 percent of in-state full-time SUNY and CUNY students are currently attending college tuition free.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office reports that approximately 45,000 New Yorkers have been determined eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship. While many applicants had their tuition covered by Pell Grants and New York State’s generous Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), they all benefited from Excelsior Scholarship application process and are attending college tuition free.

These numbers are bound to grow as the Excelsior Scholarship program is current in year one of a three-year phase in. For the 2017-18 academic year New Yorkers with household incomes up to $100,000 are eligible, increasing to $110,000 in 2018-19, and reaching $125,000 in 2019-20. Additionally, the legislature did not approve the program until April, which was after many students have decided where to attend college.

In sum, these programs demonstrate that making college tuition free improves college access, and in the case of Tennessee college success as well. As more data become available, we believe states will also be able to show that free college tuition helps businesses find the human capital that they need to succeed; and further justify their investment by realizing revenue from the increased earnings of a more educated workforce.

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