college promise

The College Promise and What Leaders Need to Know

By Dennis Pierce

Get an update on the campaign to help expand the movement for free community college, and find out about the toolkit that supports it.

A national campaign that aims to build support for tuition-free community college attracted more than 11,000 supporters within its first week — and the American Association of Community Colleges has released a toolkit to help community college leaders participate.

President Barack Obama announced the College Promise Campaign during a Sept. 9 event at Macomb Community College, in Michigan. Chaired by second lady Jill Biden and directed by former Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter, the campaign will use strategies such as grassroots organizing and public service announcements to raise awareness of the need to make community college available to responsible students at no cost.

While President Obama has proposed a nationwide America’s College Promise program, and a bill to support his vision is pending in Congress, the College Promise Campaign is not intended to push that idea alone. Instead, it’s meant to support any version of tuition-free community college at a local, state or national level, Kanter says.

The campaign has launched a new website called Heads Up America. “A hundred years ago, we made high school available for everyone,” the website says. “This is an update.” It notes that the United States is only 12th in the world in the percentage of adults with a college education, and that only 40 percent of U.S. adults ages 25 to 64 have more than a high school diploma.

The campaign details

The College Promise Campaign is set to run through Aug. 31, 2018, but it could go longer, depending on the needs of states and communities. Although anyone, from any state, is encouraged to take part, the first phase of the effort will focus on building momentum within 11 states: California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Those states, which collectively educate more than half of the nation’s community college students, were chosen in order to have the largest possible impact within the campaign’s first two years, organizers say.

Within those states, the campaign will seek to galvanize state and local leaders to take action, which promotes the idea of tuition-free community college across seven sectors: education, business, philanthropy, elected officials, students, labor unions and nonprofit organizations. The campaign will expand those activities to 20 additional states in phase two.

The campaign will also gather and disseminate information on successful programs and practices, such as the Tennessee Promise program, which has attracted nearly 10,000 more students than first anticipated. The campaign will also build a repository of national research the effectiveness and sustainability of College Promise programs and will offer technical assistance to states and communities looking to create programs of their own.

In addition, the effort includes a broad public awareness campaign encompassing social media, paid advertising, public events, roundtable discussions and op-ed pieces and letters to the editor in major newspapers. The campaign is looking for volunteers to help organize and spread the word at a grassroots level — and by Sept. 16, more than 11,000 people, reportedly, had signed up on the Heads Up America website.

Get involved in America’s College Promise

AACC’s toolkit includes advice on how community college leaders can get involved, such as by adopting and disseminating a public resolution in support of the campaign or increased support of community colleges; sending out a news release about the campaign, urging the public to discuss it; and engaging in a conversation through social media. The toolkit also includes talking points to help campus leaders discuss the issue.

AACC President Walter G. Bumphus is on the campaign’s national advisory board, as is Association of Community College Trustees President and CEO J. Noah Brown.

“This is a watershed moment for our nation,” said Bumphus. “The approaches to universal community college are as varied as the students they serve, but they are a pivotal gateway to the middle class for many Americans.”

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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