The Center for Promise and Opportunity.

What did you wish for?

The Center for Promise and Opportunity is dedicated to exploring new ways to expand opportunity and realize the promise of our country for all Americans...

...leading efforts to build public support for change,
...serving as an incubator for solutions,
...conducting real-world trials.


The Center for Promise and Opportunity. Exploring new ideas to help Americans build a better life.

Opportunity Rocks 2006:
Rebuilding the Gulf Coast

Last year, CPO launched Opportunity Rocks, a student-led initiative to engage young people in the fight against poverty. In the fall of 2005, Senator John Edwards crisscrossed the country on a two-week tour, speaking at 10 colleges and universities to kick-off this exciting new effort. In March of 2006, Senator Edwards and more than 700 college students from over 80 schools across the country spent Spring Break in the New Orleans area, gutting and cleaning up homes devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Learn more about Opportunity Rocks

Mission Statement

The Center for Promise and Opportunity (CPO) is dedicated to exploring new ways to expand opportunity and realize the promise of our country for all Americans. CPO's mission encompasses much more than just proposing ideas — it will lead efforts to build public support for change, and will serve as an incubator for solutions, conducting real-world trials.

CPO has three overarching goals. First, CPO is committed to exploring new ideas to help Americans build a better life. Second, CPO will be an advocate for change, leading efforts to build support for policies and movements that will make America stronger. Third, CPO will work to prove the strength of its ideas, through pilot projects and partnerships.

Our Honorary Chair


Senator John Edwards was born in Seneca, South Carolina and raised in Robbins, North Carolina, a small town in the Piedmont. There John learned the values of hard work and perseverance from his father, Wallace, who worked in the textile mills for 36 years, and from his mother, Bobbie, who ran a shop and worked at the post office. Working alongside his father at the mill, John developed his strong belief that all Americans deserve an equal opportunity to succeed and be heard.

For 20 years, John dedicated his career to representing families and children just like the families he grew up with in Robbins. Standing up against the powerful insurance industry and their armies of lawyers, John helped these families through the darkest moments of their lives to overcome tremendous challenges. His passionate advocacy for people like the folks who worked in the mill with his father earned him respect and recognition across the country.

In 1998, John took this commitment into politics to give a voice in the United States Senate to the people he had represented throughout his career. He then brought a positive message of change to the 2004 presidential race. He spoke about the two Americas that exist in our country today: one for people at the top who have everything they need and one for everybody else who struggle to get by. This powerful message resonated all across America.

John is currently the Director of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also the Honorary Chair of the Center for Promise and Opportunity.

John has spent his whole career working to provide more opportunities for America's working families. He worked tirelessly in the Senate, fighting to address poverty by preserving Social Security and Medicare, expanding access to higher education and health care, and providing people who work hard a fair wage. As Honorary Chair of CPO, he will continue his mission of exploring ways to give every American who works hard the chance to realize the American dream.


Today, 37 million Americans live in poverty, including nearly 13 million children. At the Center for Promise and Opportunity (CPO) we believe that in a country of our wealth and prosperity to have so many Americans living in poverty is wrong. This is one of the great moral issues of our time. No matter how insurmountable the challenge may seem, we must work to end poverty in America.

Here is what we know about poverty in America today:

According to the Latest Census Bureau Figures *

  • 37 million Americans lived in poverty in 2005.
  • 12.6 percent of Americans are living in poverty today. This figure includes 7.7 million families.

Health Care

  • Between 2004 and 2005, the number of uninsured Americans rose by 1.3 million. 46.6 million Americans do not have health care coverage.
  • 8.3 million children under the age of 18 were uninsured in 2004.
  • The proportion of people who receive health insurance from their employer continued to drop between 2004 and 2005, from 59.8 percent to 59.5 percent, the lowest levels in a decade.
  • Meanwhile, the number of people receiving assistance through government health insurance programs continues to rise. In 2005, 27.3 percent of Americans received some sort of government-sponsored health insurance, an increase from 27.2 in 2004.

Child Poverty

  • Today, 12.9 million children under the age of 18 are living in poverty. That's 17.6 percent of all children in America.

Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Disparities

  • 24.9 percent of African Americans are living in poverty, making the poverty rate among African Americans nearly twice the national rate.
  • 21.8 percent of Hispanics live in poverty.
  • 25.3 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in poverty.


  • Women are nearly 27 percent more likely to live in poverty than men.
  • Women make 77 cents for every dollar made by men.

Higher Education

"The nation has stalled in the development of human talent through college opportunity."

That discouraging statement was the finding of a recent study published by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The study found that although a larger number of high school students are better prepared for education or training beyond high school, these gains have not translated into higher rates of enrollment in higher education. For most American families college is less affordable now than it was a decade ago and the nation's gaps in college participation between affluent and poor students have widened.

Studies show that the single best predictor of success in college, especially for underrepresented students, is the academic rigor of courses taken in high school. Recent efforts have produced some gains in the enrollment of high school students in courses that prepare them for college. Nonetheless, every year thousands of American students who could attend college and want to go to college don't even apply because they think college "is not for them" or because they and their families are dissuaded by the "sticker shock" of college costs.

Research shows that many low-income students fear going into debt and lack information about grants and loans that could make college possible. Moreover, studies show that students tend to overestimate the cost of college, creating a perceived barrier even greater than the actual financial barrier to attending college.

In 2006, the Center for Promise and Opportunity Foundation will test a new program in one county in North Carolina that will make the first year of college free to academically qualified students in this county who make a commitment to participate in community service.

Youth Mobilization: Opportunity Rocks

CPO has three overarching goals: exploring new ideas to help Americans build a better life, advocating and building support for policies and movements that will make America stronger and working to prove the strength of its ideas through pilot projects and partnerships. Nowhere is there greater potential for turning these goals into action than among America's youth.

This fall, CPO will launch Opportunity Rocks, a major initiative that will mobilize young people to join the fight against poverty and spark a nationwide youth movement dedicated to expanding opportunity for all Americans. We are partnering with student leaders on 10 campuses across the country to build anti-poverty action groups dedicated to achieving three goals:

  1. Raising awareness of poverty issues
  2. Mobilizing students to become active on issues that improve the day-to-day lives of hard-working Americans struggling to get by in today's economy
  3. Building momentum to launch a nationwide youth movement dedicating to expanding opportunity for all Americans

Drawing upon the expertise of exceptional student leaders and activists, the groups will tailor their efforts to suit the unique needs of their individual communities and enhance the potential of existing resources and organizations.

Some of the initiatives that campus groups are currently developing include:

  • Lobbying public universities and state legislatures to enact measures that will allow all admitted students to go to college, regardless of their ability to pay.
  • Monitoring lending practices in the community to name and shame predatory lenders and help their victims seek legal redress.
  • Campaigning to raise the minimum wage at the state and national levels.
  • Improving and expanding both the quality and accessibility of job training programs for the homeless and people living in poverty.

By raising awareness of poverty issues, increasing student volunteer hours and focusing on large-scale projects like those mentioned above, the campus groups will produce concrete results that will improve the lives of thousands of Americans struggling to get by.

Senator John Edwards will spearhead this effort by meeting with students, participating in service projects and holding public forums at each campus as part of a 10-day, 10-school tour in the fall of 2005.


CPO is conducting a broad range of activities to remove obstacles that prevent people from building a better life — everything from the root causes of poverty to threats against our security and safety — and to develop ways to expand opportunity and create security.

Innovative Ideas:

Our in-house policy experts are working to develop innovative ideas that address America's 21st century challenges. Here are just a few examples of issues that CPO is already working on:

  • Making Work Pay. The best way to cut poverty is to help families earn more money at work. CPO will explore the best ways to make work pay including raising the minimum wage, which is currently 33% of the average hourly wage of American workers, the worst ratio since 1949. We will examine ways to expand wage supports through our tax system; for example, by providing more help to single workers who receive very little from the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Asset Building. Today, more than 25 percent of America's working families lack the savings to survive for more than three months if their income is disrupted by a sudden illness or other unexpected problem. And, according to the latest data, nearly one third of all African-American households and a quarter of all Latino households have zero or negative wealth. Families deserve the security that comes from having money in the bank when something goes wrong and the hope that comes from having savings. CPO will examine a number of exciting ideas that would help families build assets including baby bonds and matching savings accounts. CPO will also explore ways to protect the assets families already have by stopping predatory lenders.
  • Tax Reform to Honor American Values. We believe our tax code should honor one value above all the others: work. It's time to honor work by ridding the tax code of special privileges for wealth. CPO will examine a set of ideas that aim to do just that, including adopting the principle that Americans with incomes of more than $500,000 a year should pay at least 25% of their income in taxes and by taking away the biggest shelter in the current tax code: the fact that the very wealthiest are able to shelter capital gains and dividends from the Alternative Minimum Tax.
  • Increasing Employment Opportunities in Low-Income Communities. CPO will join in a campaign to mobilize the business community to increase training and employment opportunities for people that have the greatest difficulty finding work, including former welfare recipients and disadvantaged youth.

On-Site Study:

CPO will be sponsoring on-site studies, including visits with people struggling to overcome poverty and people working to help them. If we are going to face up to the real crisis of poverty in America, everyone must learn about it and open their eyes to it.

We have already visited a number of locations including: a community development lender that helps low-income people buy their first home or get a loan to open a new business; innovative schools that are having great success in educating low-income students; and a shelter that helps homeless veterans find steady work and permanent housing. We have listened closely to the stories of hard-working Americans struggling to make ends meet in Orlando, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Kansas City and all across the country. Here are some further examples of locations we have visited in 2005 and 2006:


At CPO, we believe that real change ultimately requires that we build support among the American people. We are committed to taking CPO's commitment to equal opportunity on the road, building support for all kinds of efforts to improve the lives of ordinary Americans.

  • Leading a nationwide effort on college campuses to involve young people in the fight against poverty. This major initiative, which we're calling Opportunity Rocks, will mobilize young people to join the fight against poverty and spark a nationwide youth movement dedicated to expanding opportunity for all Americans. To learn more about Opportunity Rocks, please click here.
  • Joining movements around the country to reward work, expand opportunity, and promote fairness — everything from corporate partnerships to move people from welfare to work to state initiatives to raise the minimum wage.
  • Leading efforts to develop a national consensus about new ways to deal with emerging security threats, including supporting conferences and events focused on specific foreign policy issues, meetings with international leaders and policy experts, programs to foster a public dialogue, and publications that will spark policy debates.


At the end of the day, all the good ideas in the world won't bring change to people's lives unless they actually work. We are committed to testing our best ideas in the real world through the implementation and rigorous evaluation of pilot programs.

College for Everyone

The College for Everyone pilot program will encourage all high school seniors in a targeted North Carolina county to prepare for education beyond high school by assuring them the financial aid needed to cover college tuition for the first year. College for Everyone will involve community leaders, teachers and school leaders, and provide pre-college counseling and other support services.

The goal of the project is to demonstrate the potential to increase the rates of high school graduation, completion of a rigorous curriculum, full-time enrollment in higher education, and, ultimately, completion of a college degree.

The College for Everyone pilot program will be implemented in Greene County, North Carolina. Greene County is located in Eastern North Carolina and enrolls approximately 3,200 students in its school system. Income and adult education levels in Greene County are lower than the state averages. For example, in 2004 median household income in Greene County was $33,589, compared with $42,651 for North Carolina as a whole. Approximately 65% of adults in Greene County have a high school diploma and approximately 8% have a bachelor's degree. This compares to statewide averages of approximately 78% and 23%, respectively.

Those factors are reflected in Greene County schools. Compared to the state as a whole, the Greene County school system has a higher percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged (62.1% vs. 42.9%) or English language learners (8.0% vs. 3.4%). Thus, even on a pilot basis, we expect College for Everyone to have a significant impact in Greene County.

In conducting the pilot project, the Center for Promise and Opportunity Foundation will partner with College Summit, a nonprofit organization that works with communities and their local high schools and colleges to strengthen the college transition process and dramatically increase their students' college enrollment rate. Over the past ten years, College Summit has served approximately 8,000 students. College Summit Workshop participants have a college enrollment rate of 79 percent, equal to that of the country's high-income students and almost double that of their low-income peers, and a college retention rate of 80 percent. The partnership with College Summit will reinforce the goals of College for Everyone and help the Foundation leverage its financial resources to be as effective as possible.

Financial Assistance

The Center for Promise and Opportunity Foundation will provide financial assistance to any student in the 2006 graduating class at Greene Central High School who:

  1. completes the North Carolina college/university prep or college tech prep course of study,
  2. either (A) is a legal resident of North Carolina or (B) has resided in North Carolina for at least three years prior to the date of graduation and files an affidavit upon graduation stating that he or she will apply for permanent residency status as soon as he or she is eligible to do so,
  3. refrains from using illegal drugs and alcohol, and does not commit a crime or engage in any conduct leading to expulsion from high school or a mandatory suspension of 300 days or more,
  4. is accepted to, and enrolls in, your college or one of the other participating universities or community colleges for at least 12 credits beginning with the fall semester immediately following graduation, and
  5. agrees to spend an average of at least ten hours per week during their first year in college in a job, work-study, or community service.

If a student fulfills those requirements, then he or she can, in effect, attend a participating public university or community college without having to pay for in-state tuition, fees or books during his or her first year. The following institutions will participate in the College for Everyone pilot project: Lenoir Community College, Pitt Community College, East Carolina University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

The College for Everyone financial assistance will be structured as a "last dollar" scholarship. Under this approach, the financial aid office for the college in which the student enrolls calculate the student's financial need and determine what other sources of federal, state and private scholarship and grant aid is available to the student. The financial aid office will then certify to the Foundation the amount of unmet need for that student.

The Foundation will pay to the college an amount equal to the student's unmet need, up to the total cost of in-state tuition, fees and books at your college. If unmet need exceeds the cost of in-state tuition, fees and books, then the student or his parents may be required to take out a loan. However, based on research conducted by the Foundation, we expect that most students will be able to complete their first year of college without having to incur any indebtedness.

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