The Durham Tech Promise: A scholarship for students of all backgrounds

Durham Tech serves a dual purpose for our community by developing workforce talent and providing opportunity for economic mobility. And thanks to the vision and support of the Boards of Commissioners for Durham and Orange counties, we are able to further realize that purpose through the Durham Tech Promise.

College Promise scholarship programs have emerged around the country out of a recognition that the cost of higher education can be a barrier to young people who need post-secondary credentials leading to well-paying careers. While each institution has its own variation of the program, promise programs are intended to ensure a tuition-free education for qualified students by combining federal financial aid with some form of special private or public support. These programs are referred to as “last-dollar” scholarships, meaning the special support is used to cover the difference between federal aid and the last dollar owed for tuition. 

By contrast, the Durham Tech Promise takes a “first-dollar” approach. This means that the Durham Tech scholarship will help cover eligible students’ tuition and fees first before accounting for extra financial aid.

An issue with last-dollar scholarships is that they don’t always support low-income students because the greater the amount a student receives from the Federal Pell Grant, the less support they get from the promise scholarship.

The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2018-19 academic year is slightly more than $6,000. In North Carolina, that amount is more than enough to cover a full-time in-state student’s tuition and fees. So a student who is eligible for a full Pell award would not benefit from a last-dollar scholarship, while a student who doesn’t qualify for Pell because of a higher family income would. Of course, both students still require financial support for other expenses (such as books, transportation, and housing). While the latter student could receive this support from family sources, the Pell recipient would need to work, rely on loans, or do both in order to cover the full cost of attending college. 

Since the first-dollar approach of the Durham Tech Promise allows students to receive the scholarship before any other financial aid source, all students can apply more of their other financial support (whether it is from federal aid or family resources) to books, supplies, and living expenses. Thanks to special appropriations from Durham and Orange counties, our program provides recent high school graduates from our service area who choose Durham Tech as their first college option with up to $1,000 a year for two years.

The emergence of Promise Programs is an exciting development in higher education’s efforts to increase access to affordable post-secondary opportunities for more students. We are proud of our partnership with the elected leaders of Durham and Orange counties in creating the Durham Tech Promise for our region’s recent high school graduates. Their investment in this effort will ensure more young people in the greater Triangle region will have access to high-quality, low-cost higher education. For more on the Durham Tech Promise, visit