Over 200 College Promise programs across the country are making higher education more accessible by covering the cost of tuition. While these programs make it easier for students from low-income backgrounds to enroll in college, they don’t typically address nonfinancial barriers to academic success.  As a result, many students drop out before fully benefitting from free tuition.


To improve outcomes for students in College Promise programs, nonprofit research organization MDRC partnered with the Detroit Regional Chamber to develop a pilot program called the Detroit Promise Path. The program incorporates evidence-based interventions from the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative including coaching, financial incentives, data tracking and summer engagement strategies. MDRC’s initial evaluation of the Detroit Promise Path found that the added 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 student success supports. CPSI is helping colleges develop and deploy institutional changes through a series of webinars, online tools and best practices reports. The College Promise Campaign and State Higher Education Executive Officers organizations are developing the webinar series.

We’ve seen the remarkable results providing an array of supports to students from low-income background helped bring about in the ASAP replication project in Ohio that we funded.  That evidence, coupled with the results the Detroit Promise Path achieved by combining “wraparound” supports for those learners with powerful financial incentives, persuaded us to make a $1 million grant to back the project. A portion of this funding allowed MDRC to provide in-depth technical assistance to the Community College of Rhode Island, Flint Promise, Richmond Promise and Portland Community College. Other funders are the Kellogg Foundation, the Ford Foundation, The Kresge Foundation and JP Morgan Chase.

MDRC published a policy brief in April of 2019 (see sidebar) sharing CPSI’s early lessons learned about the introduction of more student services into Promise programs. We hope that existing College Promise programs will add proven supports into the mix and that new programs will include those supports in their design from the start, helping more students from low-income backgrounds stay enrolled and on the path to success.


Contact Program Officer Maryann Rainey at