Are Promise Programs Robust Enough to Help Students Succeed?
When promise programs were just beginning to gain momentum around the country, we partnered with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to learn whether the promise of a scholarship would help more high school students from low-income households get to and through college. In 2011 we launched The Degree Project to offer nearly 2,600 MPS freshmen the promise of a $12,000 scholarship. To remain eligible, students had to graduate on time from an MPS high school with at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA and a 90 percent class attendance rate, and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
The Degree Project is one of the first randomized control trials of a promise program, with an evaluation funded by the Institute for Education Sciences to compare the outcomes for participating students to a control group. Principal investigator Dr. Douglas Harris of Tulane University and his co-authors have shared preliminary results in a report, The Promise of Free College (and Its Potential Pitfalls). Early findings suggest that the scholarships may not have significantly increased persistence and graduation.
These findings indicate the promise of a scholarship alone is not enough to move the needle. But as we learned through the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) program, when college students are offered a range of financial, academic and personalized supports, they stay enrolled and graduate in larger numbers and at a faster rate. An MDRC evaluation of the Detroit Promise Program showed early evidence that combining free tuition with wraparound support had a positive impact on enrollment in the first two semesters.
Based on those results, MDRC developed the College Promise Success Initiative (CPSI) to enable more colleges to supplement their College Promise programs with proven interventions. This year we funded CPSI to build on the lessons learned in the Detroit Promise program and we look forward to sharing MDRCs findings later in 2019. Read more