Psychology and the 2018 College Promise

The wave is now a tsunami

Posted Jul 10, 2018

ACCT, used with permission
Source: ACCT, used with permission

Luskin Learning Psychology Series, No. 41

This “nutshell essay” summarizes what I have discovered through my opportunity to interview national leaders, local trustees, administrators, and students who have dedicated themselves to urging support for the College Promise Movement across our nation. What I have learned has convinced me to ask you to please join the movement and enter the conversation.

Need for the College Promise Movement

During the 20th Century, the United States led the world in the number of college-educated adults. Now, in 2018, we have fallen, and continue to fall in international standing. The impact of foreboding debt, significantly changing demographics, the economic needs of students and the nation, coupled with the dramatically changing nature of work, is affecting us.

College Promise Campaign Chair, Dr. Jill Biden, has explained that the Promise Program strategy is designed afford more Americans the opportunity to begin and complete a college education. Dr. Biden asserts that the ability to enroll offers the chance to take the first necessary, positive step. In many cases, covering their tuition helps students to complete an educational program without drowning in an ocean of debt.

Dr. Martha Kantar, Executive Director of the Campaign, says the term “free community college” is broadly used to refer to College Promise programs that cover the cost of tuition and fees for eligible students.  Dr. Kantar told me that “The goal of College Promise programs is to make two years of high-quality higher education universally accessible to all Americans in the same way that elementary and secondary education is made affordable.” The psychology of the College Promise theme has now taken hold nationwide.

Dr. Eloy Oakley, California’s Community College Chancellor, launched the Long Beach City College Promise. Oakley is succeeded by LBCC President Reagan Romali, who has launched an expanded version called Long Beach Promise “2.0.” The LBCC program is an excellent example of the hundreds of growing Promise Programs leading the way as the popularity and support of the College Promise movement grows. Arturo “Art” Hernandez, Chair of the Ventura County Community College District Board, where I recently served as Chancellor, has repeatedly underlined the importance of the Ventura College Promise that has particular impact on Latino and other special populations within his district. These are outstanding examples of the hundreds of good programs now blossoming nationwide.

Noah Brown, President of the Association of Community College Trustees, told me during a meeting of the Community College Commission on the Future of Community Colleges that ACCT is urging its 1200 member-colleges to launch and support the College Promise movement. President Brown encouraged me to interview leaders and students and write a column in Psychology Today to share facts of key importance about the College Promise Movement with the broader audience.

Alliance for Excellent Education data underscores the critical importance of the College Promise Campaign:

What’s the bottom line?

  1. The acquisition of postsecondary education is an essential prerequisite to participate in the twenty-first-century labor market. (Loschert, 2016) 
  2. By 2020, more than 65 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. (Carnevale, 2017)
  3. Today, only 46% of Americans aged 25-64 have earned a degree or credential after highSchool. (Lumina Foundation, 2017)
  4. U.S. college graduation rates rank 19th out of 28 countries studied by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which tracks education investment and performance of wealthier democracies. (Weston, 2014) 
  5. The price of American college increased nearly 400 percent in the last 30 years, while median household income growth was relatively flat. Student debt soared to more than $1 trillion, the result of loans to cover the difference. (Thompson, 2017) 
Ventura College, used with permission
Source: Ventura College, used with permission

The Challenge

 In the 21st century, it is increasingly understood that a high school diploma is not enough to lead to good jobs and a decent quality of life. At the very time we need more Americans to seek a college education, the rising costs of attendance makes far too many people believe that higher education is beyond their means. Jobs and workforce development are at the center of the College Promise conversation agenda. In decades ahead, more than 6 out of 10 jobs will require knowledge, skills, and training beyond what is learned in high school. U.S. companies are seeking a better-trained workforce; however, our nation is not providing enough students with the college and career-ready skills that employers need. If current trends continue, employers will have millions of jobs that cannot be filled with well-prepared graduates. Without increasing quality and access to higher education and workforce training, our nation will not be able to compete with countries that will outpace the U.S. through investing in higher education to ensure their competitiveness.

Walter Bumphus, President of the American Association of Community Colleges, asserts that “given the overall cost of attending college, it is an American tragedy that low-income and first-generation college students lag in college enrollment by more than 30% compared to their higher-income peers.” In addition, the changing nature of work cannot be overstated. Quantum computing, new big data applications, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality will have a dramatic effect on the nature of jobs and the U.S. workforce in years ahead.

Ventura College, used with permission
Source: Ventura College, used with permission

The College Promise Campaign

Martha Kantar reports that to meet the challenges facing students, the College Promise Campaign is continually urging an expanding conversation. Our nation’s two-year colleges serve approximately half of all undergraduates, so community colleges are my focus for this article. I asked Chair Jill Biden and she agreed with their importance. “If we enable students to complete their first two years of college - at a minimum - without the burden of overwhelming and unmanageable debt, our nation will substantially increase equity and opportunity for all to earn the credentials they need to prosper in their communities. This is the goal of the College Promise Campaign,” she told me during a College Promise meeting at Los Angeles City College.

“Our challenge is to design a sustainable, robust College Promise that enables students to earn their college degrees and certificates by removing financial, academic and social barriers to their success in college, their career and the rest of their lives,” said President Romali, during an interview at Long Beach City College.

Growth in financial resources and the number of institutions is occurring in rural areas, suburbs, and major urban centers. Chair Biden reports that “the Campaign has identified legislation and executive orders from governors and legislators in 16 states to launch their versions of the College Promise. Just this year Governors, working in a bipartisan manner, launched promise programs in Rhode Island, New York, California, Hawaii, Arkansas, Montana, Indiana, Nevada, Missouri, and Wyoming into the free college movement, joining Tennessee, Oregon, Minnesota, Louisiana, Delaware, and Kentucky.”

The Psychology of the College Promise

We can Build Our Nation’s Future, Community by Community, State by State, Student by Student.  I serve as a consultant to the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of Community College Trustees and California League of Community Colleges. Our belief is that the College Promise is best accomplished Student by Student. Overcoming the foreboding fear of crushing debt is a huge obstacle for low income families and students, immigrants and those with special needs. By releaving the threat of overwhelming debt, supporting programs for secure housing and adding opportunity for single mothers, the College Promise opens the doors for many in low income circumstances and allows both reason and emotion to become enablers for many to get a necessary education. This is a national conversation. Every time you talk about the College Promise it helps. Each of those interviewed agreed that it is critical to continue expanding this conversation.

More information can be found on the website of the College Promise Campaign.

Those quoted from interviews are:

Honorary Chair, Dr. Jill Biden, ACCT President Noah Brown, AACC President Walter Bumphus, California Chancellor Eloy Oakley, LBCC College Superintendent/President Reagan Romali, Ventura CCD Board Chair Arturo (Art) Hernandez, and College Promise Executive Director Martha Kanter

Civic Nation, host of the College Promise Campaign, is a charitable and educational 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2015. You may visit their site here.

Special thanks for editorial assistance to  Dr. Toni Luskin and Ms. Andra Armstrong, Staff at Civic Nation for the College Promise Campaign.

Please email comments or questions to Dr. Bernard Luskin @


1. Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., Strohl, J. (2017). Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020. Retrieved from Washington, DC:

2. Loschert, K. (2016). Haves and Have-Nots (Post Secondary Edu Report). Available from Alliance for Excllent Education Alliance for Excellent Education Retrieved 07-10-18, from Alliance for Excellent Education

3. LuminaFoundation. (2017). A Stronger Nation: Learning beyond high school builds American talent. Retrieved from Indianapolis:

4. Thompson, D. (2017, July 26). This Is the Way the College 'Bubble' Ends: Not with a pop, but a hiss. The Atlantic.

5. Weston, L. (2014). OECD: The US Has Fallen Behind Other Countries In College Completion. Business Insider.

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