College promise programs direct scholarship dollars to a specific state, region or institution with the goal of increasing higher education attainment and encouraging local economic development. The design of promise programs impacts which students are able to access scholarship funds, as well as college enrollment, completion and workforce development within a region. Missouri’s primary statewide promise program is the A+ Scholarship, which funds tuition and fees at participating public community colleges and vocational/technical schools for eligible graduates of A+ high schools.
- Most promise scholarships are last-dollar programs that require students to use all available public funds (e.g., Pell grants) prior to being awarded additional funding.
- Low-income students are the least likely to receive state funds in last-dollar programs.
- Eligibility requirements (e.g., GPA, residency) and additional program requirements (e.g., credit hours, community service) also influence what populations benefit most from promise programs.
- Promise scholarships are most often associated with increased college enrollment and completion. Local, first-dollar programs (e.g., Kalamazoo Promise) have demonstrated the strongest positive effects for low-income, non-White and female students.
- Missouri’s A+ Scholarship has been associated with increased two-year college enrollment and completion among eligible students, but slightly reduced four-year college enrollment in the state.
- Due to significantly different designs between statewide promise programs, there has not yet been enough research to evaluate which elements of promise program design are most important to increase college access and completion.
- Additional research, particularly in Missouri, is needed to understand the effect of statewide promise programs on keeping students in the state for college and future job opportunities.