The Center for Promise

The Center for Promise, America’s Promise Alliance’s research institute dedicated to understanding what young people need to thrive and how to create the conditions of success for all young people, is now housed at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. With a shared commitment to using research to find solutions that will improve outcomes for young people, this joint effort marks the first partnership between BU and America’s Promise.

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Launched in 2012, the Center for Promise’s research supports the GradNation campaign, a movement led by America’s Promise to raise the national high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and increase college enrollment and completion.

In 2014, the Center for Promise released “Don’t Call Them Dropouts,” a major exploration into why some young people are still failing to graduate despite historic advances in graduation rates.CFProundthinborder2

“Boston University is committed to generating knowledge that benefits society,” said BU President Robert A. Brown. “By bringing the Center for Promise to BU we broaden and deepen the Wheelock College of Education & Human Development’s capacity to better understand youth who are at risk for school failure and find ways to significantly reduce that risk. I am confident our society will benefit from the work of the researchers at this Center and I am delighted that we are able to work in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance.”

“We’re so pleased to partner with Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development in a search to understand how to help all young people reach their full potential,” said John Gomperts, president & CEO of America’s Promise. “BU offers us access to a great research university and the opportunity to work together with leading scholars to discover the keys to a new generation’s success.”

The Center for Promise has six full-time staff members, including Executive Director Dr. Jonathan Zaff, who will also hold a post as a Research Associate Professor at BU; Associate Director Marissa Cole; two research scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Pufall Jones and Dr. Alice Donlan; and lead youth engagement specialist, Craig McClay, who works closely with youth engagement facilitator and analyst Melissa Maharaj. Part-time staff will consist of a number of doctoral and masters research assistants.

“Our goal at the Center for Promise is to provide communities and individuals with the knowledge they need to create the conditions so they can improve young people’s chances for success,” said Dr. Zaff. “Our collaboration with the BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and its esteemed faculty strengthens our ability to contribute to this work.”

The Center for Promise’s agenda for study includes:

  • Community Youth Systems: a multi-method, longitudinal study currently in 14 GradNation Communities, with plans to grow into as many as 25 communities, that seeks to understand how different facets of a community come together to collaborate and support young people.
  • Disconnected Youth: a longitudinal study that examines the characteristics of high school dropouts who reconnect with educational settings and the facets of those programs that are successful in luring students back and helping them obtain their diploma.
  • the Center is providing research-based content for, an online platform that will feature information on the most effective research assessed programs around youth for communities and individuals to access.
  • Youth Engagement: examination and synthesis of the best practices and programs throughout the country for engaging youth as agents of change in their communities.
  • Race and Culture: in partnership with key America’s Promise partners, the Center will examine the influence of race and cultural factors on children and youth well-being, especially minorities and impoverished young people, and how they gain access to and experience the Five Promises.

“Our mission is to prepare professionals to make a difference in the lives of all children and produce scholarship that improves the practice of education,” said BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development Dean Hardin Coleman. “We look forward to collaborating with the Center of Promise to use their research to improve the ability of our graduates to meet the needs of youth in this country.”

Follow Center for Promise on Twitter @Center4Promise. To learn more about current and upcoming research briefs and reports from the Center for Promise, visit:

The Center for Promise is the research institute for America’s Promise Alliance, housed at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and dedicated to understanding what young people need to thrive and how to create the conditions of success for all young people.

 America’s Promise Alliance leads more than 400 organizations, communities and individuals dedicated to making the promise of America real for every child. As its signature effort, the GradNation campaign mobilizes Americans to increase the on-time high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 and prepare young people for postsecondary enrollment and the 21st century workforce.