Kresge Foundation awards $2.5M to study ‘free’ community college

TROY–The Kresge Foundation’s Education Program has announced 11 grants totaling $2.5 million to programs helping to shape free college across the country.

CoPro 2.0, short for College Promise, funds research and programming aimed at founding the next generation of financially sustainable community college promise programs.

College Promise, a national bipartisan organization launched in 2015 by President Obama, will serve as the initiative’s managing partner.

Two of the grantees are in Michigan–the Detroit Regional Chamber Foundation and the Kalamazoo-based W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

College promise programs have proliferated over the past decade, expanding from 53 in 2015 to 368 local and statewide programs serving nearly 500,000 students today. The Biden-Harris Administration has signaled its support for free community college and proposed it as a part of the Build Back Better Act. It was eventually cut from the Reconciliation Bill and while momentum for national adoption remains, there is little consensus over best practices. Despite the rapid expansion of the free college movement, evidence on programs’ effectiveness remains unclear.

“While the growing momentum around adopting free college programs is progress in the right direction, more needs to be done to make these programs equitable, effective and financially sustainable for cities and states considering their own versions of free college,” said Kresge Program Officer Ed Smith, a published scholar on the topic of free college programs. “Promise programs, if strengthened, offer a framework to serve students, colleges, communities and the nation as a whole by facilitating the credential attainment needed to increase global competitiveness and social mobility.”

The suite of awarded CoPro2.0 grants align with the following three streams of focus:

* Program innovations to facilitate partnerships that enhance or expand services, reimagine eligibility criteria, and catalyze the expansion of college-level reforms.

* Research on financial sustainability to investigate public-private financing partnerships and innovative financial models that foreground program viability, while sharpening equity.

* Strategic and implementation assistance to support states and cities considering free college programs and/or to help respond to the changing federal policy environment.

In funding the 11 projects, Kresge aims to identify, support, and disseminate targeted approaches that College Promise practitioners can use to catalyze improvements in student success systems and make postsecondary educational pathways more equitable.

College Promise will monitor and support the implementation of the initiative, facilitate learning exchanges and larger convenings, and produce reports and briefs. Working together, Kresge, College Promise and the initiative’s grantees anticipate forging strong connections between promise programs and state and federal policymakers, with the goal of enabling the exchange of actionable information.

CoPro2.0 is funded through a cross-foundation effort led by Kresge’s Education Program, in partnership with Kresge’s Human Services, Detroit and American Cities Programs. The Education Program works to increase college access and success while reducing inequitable student outcomes in the U.S. and South Africa. The American Cities Program seeks to expand opportunity by promoting effective and inclusive community development practices in American cities. The Human Services Program centers racial equity to advance social and economic mobility for families and communities. The Detroit Program collaborates with cross-sectoral partners to promote and expand long-term, equitable opportunity in Kresge’s hometown by centering the priorities of its residents.

Visit to learn more about the initiative and individual grantees.

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