Analyzes the place-based approach to awarding scholarships, called “Promise” programs in the United States, created specifically to increase access to postsecondary education for students, build a college-going culture in schools district, and place an emphasis on local community and economic development; and covers the program’s history as well as its impact and possible future.

This book provides an overview and analysis of “place-based scholarships, often called “Promise” programs, [which] have emerged in communities of all types and sizes…with about 50 in operation as of 2015” (p.1). Such programs provide college tuition for certain students in the involved city. Published in 2015, considers the impact of the Promise model across the United States.

“The Promise model has been spreading quickly, but efforts to collectively analyze these programs are limited…There are reasons why this is a challenging task. These initiatives originate from the grassroots, are only loosely connected to each other, and differ in some of their fundamental features. Yet they represent a…departure from historical patterns of student financial aid and an innovative approach to community and economic development. This volume takes a broad look at the emergence and development of place-based scholarships and provides a nontechnical audience with some analytical tools for understanding both the origins and impact of Promise programs.

“In [the first] chapter, [the author] define[s] a Promise program, which is harder than it sounds since the current place-based scholarship programs differ from each other in many ways, both large and small. In Chapter 2, [the author] address[es] how Promise programs fit into the larger landscape of financial aid, economic development, and community change strategies, resolving some of the confusion that surrounds various “Promise”-named initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels. Chapter 3 explores the pathways through which the Promise model has expanded into new communities, [which the author calls a] puzzling phenomenon given that the Promise movement lacks any central direction. Chapter 4 examines the two most critical design choices made by Promise stakeholders—which students are eligible for a scholarship and what institutions they can attend…Chapter 5 reviews existing research and draws some conclusions about the impact of Promise programs to date…Chapter 6 looks at the area of impact that is hardest to measure or assess—how Promise programs affect economic development…Chapter 7 offers some concluding thoughts on the future of the Promise movement, its staying power, and the key issues to which Promise communities must attend” (p.2-3).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The author explains that knowledge of the Promise program’s impact is limited for several reasons. “Many of the expected outcomes of such programs are very long term, and few have been in existence long enough to generate sufficient data for analysis…A further challenge is that most Promise initiatives cover entire school districts, making it difficult to…carry out rigorous research that gives insight into causation. Data are hard to come by, requiring delicate working relationships with school districts and the preservation of student privacy. And finally, very few Promise programs have allocated funding for research or evaluation” (p.61). Nevertheless, the author summarizes findings from studies of some of the older Promise programs. She writes that “there are some signs that Promise programs are having a positive impact on graduation rates. In Pittsburgh, the graduation rate rose from 65 percent in 2009 to 71 percent for the class of 2014. Denver Public Schools reports historically high increases in graduation rates between 2007 and 2013…In Kalamazoo, graduation rates are slowly trending upward” (p.67). While the author notes that there is not yet much data available on college completion rates, there is a trend of increased access to college for participants. She cites a study of the Kalamazoo program that “find[s] a large increase in college enrollment concentrated at four-year institutions and a moderate increase in credits attempted in the first two, three, and four years after high school graduation. The biggest news from their study is a dramatic gain of 25 percent in credential attainment within six years of high school graduation, with an even larger percentage increase of 33 percent if only bachelor’s degrees are considered” (p.70-71). The author concludes the book with the following: “In the decade since the Kalamazoo Promise was announced, we have witnessed grassroots innovation meeting the human capital needs of individuals and communities. The next 10 years will, ideally, draw on the lessons learned from this initial period…As the process of innovation continues, [the author] hopes that stakeholders will learn from the lessons presented in this book, making decisions grounded in evidence to advance the goals of their Promise programs. By doing so, they will continue to offer inspiration to others seeking to make their communities better places to live” (p.103-104). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)