Research Highlights

Mapping the Promise Nation and its impact

Over the last eight years, place-based scholarships in the U.S. more than quadrupled. In Promise Nation, Michelle Miller-Adams maps their variations and their effects on college-going and economic development.

While Promise scholarship programs vary by eligibility requirements, amount of scholarship available, and participating colleges where scholarships can be used, they share two common features: a focus on place-based scholarship and a goal to use those scholarships to transform local K-12 schools and communities.

In developing Promise programs, designers face two key questions: who is eligible for a scholarship and what institutions will accept the scholarship? Scholarships may be universal, meaning based solely on residency in the area over time, or restrictive, meaning students must meet additional eligibility requirements, such as a specified GPA.  The set of participating higher education institutions may be expansive or restrictive. In El Dorado, Arkansas, students may take their Promise scholarship to any accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. By contrast, the Detroit Scholarship Fund is limited to a group of five regional community colleges.

Currently, 63 communities across the U.S. have established Promise programs and more are under construction. (The Upjohn Institute maintains a database that includes pertinent program details on all existing programs.)

While a lively debate continues over the benefits of universal vs. restrictive eligibility requirements for scholarship recipients, Miller-Adams makes the case for universal eligibility’s reach and simplicity as tools to build school culture and expand college access.

Although the programs are new and the research base is small, Promise programs in Kalamazoo and El Dorado are beginning to show positive effects on K-12 outcomes, including reduced discipline problems, increased GPA and test score gains for low-income and African-American students.  Kalamazoo has shown the greatest economic development effects of any Promise program to date, including sizable enrollment increases that brought significant additional state funds for schools.

Promise Nation concludes with recommendations for leveraging Promise programs in the service of community change and a call to invest in wisely-designed research that will better measure a program’s collective impact.

Promise Nation is part of the Institute's WEfocus series of books and is available as a free download.