About 370 more free college programs have erupted nationwide in 8 years

States and organizations offer College Promise initiatives as either a first-dollar program, a last-dollar program or a scholarship.

When College Promise first set out to make postsecondary education as affordable and accessible as public high schools, it started with 53 programs. Today, free college programs have proliferated to 425 different initiatives, spanning all 50 states.

College Promise offers students an affordable, life-changing opportunity in different packages, from statewide initiatives like the Excelsior Scholarship in New York or the GEAR UP Idaho Scholarship 2 to more localized options like the Alamo Promise in Texas and the Louisville Rotary Promise in Kentucky. States and organizations offer free college under either a first-dollar program, a last-dollar program or a scholarship.

As of last year, California leads the way with 89 free college programs, followed by Texas and Michigan with 24. Michigan’s Kalamazoo Promise was one of the first College Promise programs rolled out in 2005. Since then, it has proven to increase eligible students’ chances of enrolling in a 4-year college or university by 34%, with Western Michigan University and Michigan State University being two of the most favorited destinations for students who earned the last-dollar program.

In collaboration with ETS, College Promise created design teams composed of multidisciplinary academic experts to understand students better. As a result, they have identified nine different types of students that extend beyond the traditionally aged college student who might face significant barriers to success. These efforts are conducive to their mission of eliminating educational gaps and expanding employment opportunities.

“College Promise programs are a proven means of helping students access, persist in, and graduate from higher education. But because we know students aren’t a monolith, we created a way to set up these design teams to help us understand—and better address—the needs of those specific populations,” said Martha Kanter, CEO of College Promise.

More from UB: These states have the highest rates of first-generation students

Nontraditional students and tips on how to support their growth

For a more exhaustive list of how to help each student population, visit the report.

1. Adult learners: Provide campus-based childcare and create more flexible hours for class schedules and professor office hours.

2. Undocumented students: Evaluate regulations on using public funding for undocumented persons and accessibility of philanthropic financial support. Additionally, colleges can collaborate with community organizations to create social and economic networks that expose students to mentorship opportunities, scholarships, internships and mental health services.

3. Student veterans: Train counselors to help transition students’ military experience to college credits and navigate government benefits.

4. Justice-impacted students: Notify students whose preferred college courses may lead to employment opportunities restricting access to the formerly incarcerated. Secondly, offer financial counseling to those nearing release.

5. First-generation students: Connect with peer mentors and advisors and help build their sense of belonging on campus.

6. Students in or aged out of foster care: Provide opportunities for this cohort to build relationships with trauma-informed faculty and staff. Community-based organizations are a great way to facilitate relationship development.

7. Students with disabilities:  Standardizing how colleges identify disabilities to increase students’ access to services. Additionally, student financial support can improve their access to accommodations since they will be more available to obtain a more involved diagnosis or assessment of their disabilities.

8. Student-parents: Institutionalize priority registration, flexible course options and non-traditional business hours for support services. Additionally, Make students well aware of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

9. Students needing academic support: Replace student success courses with pre-enrollment orientation classes that teach successful habits and emphasize how the institution offers support services.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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