College Promise Campaign

FAQs About the College Promise Campaign

By Dennis Pierce

The campaign’s director addresses college leaders’ questions and suggests ways to support the effort.

As the College Promise Campaign (CPC) works to build widespread support for free community college for all responsible students, community college leaders have raised a number of questions about the effort.

Via email, Martha J. Kanter, distinguished visiting professor of higher education at New York University and the director of the CPC, addressed some of the most common questions.

AACC: What is Civic Nation, and how is it involved in the campaign?

Martha J. Kanter: Civic Nation is a charitable and educational 501(c)(3) organization focused on implementing sensible solutions to America’s most pressing problems. The CPC resides under the umbrella of Civic Nation, though there are additional initiatives under that organization that are distinct from CPC. Currently, Civic Nation houses two additional initiatives — another higher-education effort focused on reaching and elevating Generation Z, and a campaign focused on naturalizing nearly 9 million residents who could more fully participate as citizens.

What is the relationship of Civic Nation to the CPC’s National Advisory Board (NAB), and from where does its funding come? What activities is it engaged in?

The CPC NAB comprises 32 national leaders who were invited to serve by the CPC honorary chair, honorary vice chair and executive director. This information is public at

A variety of national foundations have already invested in its planning and startup activities. While the NAB benefits from the Civic Nation organization, the NAB operates exclusively as a voluntary advisory board to the CPC initiative. Specifically, the purpose of the NAB is for national cross-sector leaders to work together to advise the CPC on strategy and tactics and to promote its mission publicly.

The CPC is focused on providing information, research and capacity-building strategies to learn from and expand the more than 70 College Promise programs underway across our nation. The campaign is also helping communities and states to share College Promise data, experiences and communications efforts to strengthen existing and encourage new College Promise programs.

Civic Nation is not a lobbying organization, and the campaign does not lobby. Rather, the campaign is building a national platform by hosting roundtable discussions and special meetings across the country, bringing key leaders together to share College Promise resources, research, information and support strategies necessary to develop or expand College Promise programs.

Can states implement College Promise programs without federal support?

Yes. While federal support would significantly bolster any College Promise campaign, states and communities can move ahead without federal support. A successful example of a fully state-supported version of College Promise is the Tennessee Promise program. Similarly, states such as Oregon, Minnesota, Wyoming and Oklahoma implemented or are currently initiating College Promise programs. The CPC will study models of promising programs like these for replication and scaling.

How can community college leaders respond to questions or concerns about the cost of providing free community college and whether this is financially sustainable?

The campaign officially started on September 9, so we are very much in a startup mode. That said, we have already identified a mix of College Promise programs that have put in place sustainable plans and budgets. For example, several have endowments made possible by investments from government, philanthropy and business that are being used to provide responsible students with the funding for community college tuition and fees.

We already know that the return on investment is significant for students who complete their college degrees and certificates. The research has already been done, and the evidence is there for anyone to see that college graduates — including those with technical training — contribute positively to our nation’s social and economic prosperity. The American Association of Community Colleges has showcased numerous studies over the years in a variety of fields that illustrate how community college graduates perform and give back to their communities and society throughout their lives.

The campaign will make even more transparent those institutions, communities and states that are leading the way with sustainable funding streams that support the College Promise.

How and why were the 11 initial host states chosen?

A goal of the initial phase of the CPC is to impact a manageable number of states serving at least half of community college students. As such, the campaign identified initial host states on the basis of demographic and geographic diversity, size, and variance in state versus local governance authority. The specific states that were chosen have strong local and state leaders who were receptive to the College Promise concept. The campaign is by no means limited to these states and ultimately intends to reach every state in the country. We strongly encourage individuals from all states and communities to join the campaign.

What can community college leaders do to support the campaign?

Talk about the College Promise to your stakeholders. Share your passion, and explain why it matters to students, families and the nation — and encourage them to do the same.

Meet with, call and send letters proclaiming your support of the CPC to your federal, state and local elected officials. Talk to business leaders and let them know that your community is full of untapped potential because of socioeconomic barriers, and that offering two years of college to everyone will flood the workforce with a greater supply of more diverse and better-qualified workers.

Write letters to your local newspaper editors and news producers about the importance of the College Promise and how keeping it could transform your community by offering educational opportunity to those who otherwise might not be able to access it.

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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