"I have never doubted myself – nor have I ever doubted I would go to college. The Alliance helps to reinforce one's mental outlook that college is possible," says Jesus Perez, a student of applied physics at CSU San Marcos and a promise program ambassador for the Alliance to Accelerate Excellence in Education.

Partnering with community colleges and local school districts across the state, California State University college promise approaches are recognized as among the most promising strategies to increase college-going rates, says Nathan Evans, chief of staff and senior advisor for Academic and Student Affairs at the CSU Office of the Chancellor.

While all 23 CSU campuses have a long history of working with local community colleges and school districts to increase their students' college readiness and enrollment, 11 CSU campuses are proactively reaching out to increase scholarships and services through formal partnerships, tapping into both private and public funding. CSU's college promise programs predate and compliment the 2015 California College Promise program, which provides funding to support community college students meeting minimum requirements to complete college. 

CSU campuses have individually developed their own college/university promises, each tailored based on the needs and resources of the communities they serve. Some promise supportive services and scholarships; others promise to facilitate students in completing their degrees in four years, rather than drawing out their degree and expenses to five or six years. Among the goals of each campus' promise programs are to: provide students the necessary academic tools for entering college without remediation; improve access, retention and college completion for underrepresented students; raise academic expectations; and ensure that students not only qualify for college admission but are successful when they get there.

Fifteen years before the state's California College Promise was made official, San Diego State University partnered with Sweetwater Union High School District in 2000 to create a program promising students college admission if they met specific academic requirements. It was the first CSU campus to officially partner with local high schools and school districts. With extensive college and school district faculty collaboration, middle and high school students participating in the Compact for Success Program focused on meeting five achievement benchmarks that would earn them guaranteed admission to SDSU.

California State University, Fresno's Central Valley Promise, launched in 2016, is already making great strides, obtaining generous funding for its three career-focused pathways for diverse groups to earn their degrees.

"The Promise is an intentioned response to the low college-going rate in the Central Valley of California," says Shirley Armbruster, associate vice president of University Communications for Fresno State.  "We are not just opening doors to diverse groups of students, many of whom are low income and first generation college goers, we are providing the resources and support for their full participation, and ultimately for the economic and social/cultural benefits of a college degree."

Addressing three pathways -- two rural and one urban, The Central Valley Promise focuses on developing careers in STEM, agriculture and teaching, with the potential to impact as many as 25,000 young students in the Central Valley. The Fresno State program has been awarded grants from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities through its initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Most of the CSU promise programs are dependent on tight community partnerships between local education, social service, business and philanthropic groups, and are intended to support a "cradle-to-career'" educational pipeline. Several programs, such as California State University San Marcos, include scholarships to help offset tuition and fees that may be an obstacle to attending college.

Launched in 2007 as the Pace Promise, CSU San Marcos' Alliance to Accelerate Excellence in Education is a scholarship and career guidance program designed to reduce barriers to college success for students in North San Diego County. The Alliance serves as the oversight and support office for guaranteed admission agreements with ten area school districts. The program has awarded more than 500 four-year $1,000 scholarships since 2009.

"As an Alliance ambassador, I have challenged myself to go beyond my potential and grow as a first-generation student," said CSU San Marcos student Maribel Gamez. "Scholarship funds like these are not only about the money, but about the chance for the opportunity for students like me to accomplish their goals."

"The Alliance serves as a dynamic partner in keeping with CSU San Marcos' commitment to active participation in our regional community. The Alliance combines the resources and creative talents of a comprehensive state university, community colleges, public school districts, and community businesses and agencies in pursuit of its goals," said Erika Daniels, Ph.D., director of the Alliance.

California State University, Long Beach, which launched its College Promise program in 2008, found that the percentage of Long Beach Unified students enrolled at Cal State Long Beach increased by 43 percent during a five-year assessment study. Its promise program is "a dynamic partnership" between Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach City College, Cal State Long Beach and the City of Long Beach.  In 2015, the Long Beach College Promise partnership was granted $5 million under a state program recognizing innovation in higher education, one of 14 schools and their partners to earn a share of $50 million allotted for the program.

With a goal of removing barriers to a college education, the Long Beach College Promise Pathway includes universal access to early childhood education, access to internships, a tuition-free year at Long Beach City College and guaranteed admission to Cal State Long Beach.

California State University, Monterey Bay's Bright Futures initiative incorporates the University Promise.

"The program begins with bringing middle-schoolers to tour the campus and meet students and staff. The young students are asked to commit to study hard and stay on track for graduation and the university promises to save a spot for them if they complete high school and meet other basic requirements. As part of its pledge, the university works with students and their parents to help arrange financial aid," said Andre Lewis, associate president of University Affairs.

The campus continues its outreach into the high school years. Last year, Cal State Monterey Bay received $14 million in grants to serve 3,620 local high school students through Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs—GEAR UP—administered by the U.S Department of Education. GEAR UP provides academic and financial aid advising, tutoring, college field trips and other activities that help students prepare for college. Its Imagine College Summer Scholar Institute and Upward Bound program helps aspiring students experience what it's like to live and learn on a college campus.

Lewis points out a new program designed to support students once they are enrolled: the CS-in-3, which allows students to earn a Computer Science degree in three years. A collaborative effort between Cal State Monterey Bay and Hartnell College in Salinas, CS-in-3 was awarded $5 million in the inaugural California Awards for Innovation in Higher Education competition in 2016.

California State University, San Bernardino launched the San Bernardino Promise in 2014. The leaders of the San Bernardino City Unified School District, Cal State San Bernardino, and Lewis Center for Educational Research entered into an agreement guaranteeing college admission for all students in the San Bernardino City Unified School District who fulfill basic requirements. San Jose State University is now developing "The Spartan East Side Promise" with the 13 high schools in the East Side Union High School District.  Other campuses with robust promise programs include: California State University campuses in Los Angeles, San Francisco, East Bay, Fullerton and Humboldt.

While each promise program includes unique components that reflect the local school and university community, common requirements for student participation include: completion of all "a-g" college preparatory course requirements and achievement of CSU admission eligibility; demonstration of college-readiness in English and mathematics prior to enrollment; attendance, participation and continuous enrollment benchmarks; and an application for federal and state financial aid programs.