Guest Blog: Building a College Promise Program

By: Martha Kanter, Executive Director of the College Promise Campaign, and Yanelle Cruz, Policy and Development Fellow, College Promise Campaign

At the College Promise Campaign, we’ve teamed up with West Sacramento, CA Mayor Christopher Cabaldon to create a Playbook for mayors, county executives, and other local elected leaders to help them establish or expand “free community college” programs in their communities.

The Playbook, available on our website, is a step-by-step guide which draws upon lessons learned from the rapidly growing list of cities, towns, and counties that have created free college or “College Promise” programs. More than 200 programs in 44 states are now underway, including Boston, Dallas, Detroit, and West Sacramento. In 2016, West Sacramento voters approved the “Home Run Initiative”, a cradle-to-career agenda led by Mayor Cabaldon. It includes universal preschool, mentors, free community college, and paid internships for high school and college students.

We know that there’s no single way to build a Promise program. Each new program serves as inspiration for other communities as they ponder initiatives of their own. The Playbook’s suggested strategies and program examples aim to provide a path for local leaders as they seek to help residents pursue an education, earn a degree, and find a rewarding career.

The Playbook highlights successful programs across the country such as the Kalamazoo Promise in Michigan and the Tennessee Promise. These examples illustrate critical principles, such as the importance of diverse strategic partnerships. Say Yes Buffalo, for instance, is built on a collaboration between Say Yes to Education, Buffalo’s Public School Districts, local parents, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, and the City of Buffalo through a collective governance structure.

As Mayor Cabaldon said, “This playbook serves as a blueprint for mayors to build College Promise programs that other cities, including my own, have created in their communities. Having a postsecondary degree or credential is essential to achieving a higher quality of life and long-term career security.”

The Playbook is divided into four main sections:

  • Laying the groundwork: addresses how local leaders can assess their communities and build support for Promise.
  • Program Design: discusses program characteristics and reviews various features that can help make a program successful.
  • Fundraising: shares best practices for financial sustainability and methods for successful fundraising.
  • Administering and Sustaining the Promise: discusses the implementation and administration of a Promise program.

The Playbook is a useful resource for anyone interested in learning best practices, replicating successful program models, or just beginning to explore what a College Promise program could do for their community.  Download the How to Build a Promise Playbook here.