Free-college “Promise” programs can boost local prosperity

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Since the introduction of the Kalamazoo Promise in 2005, place-based free-college programs have sprung up across the country. Research on these “promise” programs has focused largely on how well scholarship recipients perform in college.

In a new policy paper and policy brief, the Upjohn Institute’s Michelle Miller-Adams and Edward Smith detail the effects of such programs on local prosperity—that is, on revitalizing distressed communities and attracting and retaining residents and businesses. They find that such programs can help revitalize communities as part of a portfolio of efforts to reduce unemployment and help local businesses and neighborhoods.

Miller-Adams and Smith detail several ways Promise programs can help local areas thrive, such as anchoring parents to communities, making school districts attractive to new residents and businesses, addressing poverty, and aligning local resources to support youth development. Separately, they offer advice for structuring effective Promise programs, including: addressing equity, including adult learners, and incorporating a simple design at a scale that suits the local community.

Promise scholarship programs can be powerful forces for boosting local communities’ prosperity. The observations Miller-Adams and Smith offer can help local leaders use them strategically, alongside other revitalization efforts.   

Download the full policy paper

Download the policy brief

More information on the Upjohn Institute’s research on the Kalamazoo Promise and place-based college scholarship programs


Michelle Miller-Adams headshot

Michelle Miller-Adams

Senior Researcher

Research Topics: Promise Programs