Free Community College Pilot Set In California

Posted By Eliana Osborn on July 5, 2016 at 1:36 pm
Free Community College Pilot Set In California

In his final state of the union address, President Obama laid out a vision for America’s College Promise: two years of free community college available to all students. States and cities, as well as individual schools, have risen to the challenge. Now California, with more than 2 million students attending 113 community colleges, is entering the fray.

The state is starting small with just three schools and 200 students as the focus of a pilot project, San Diego Promise.  In fall 2017 it will roll out more fully. The plan is an ambitious one: “The San Diego Promise is ultimately intended to ensure that no deserving local students are denied the opportunity to go to college due to lack of resources.”

To take advantage of the free community college program, students must have graduated from San Diego public schools, enroll full-time with at least 12 credits, and maintain a 2.0 GPA. More than 300 students applied to participate in the fall 2016 program, and 201 have been accepted. All will enroll at no cost to them, after other grants and scholarships are included. San Diego Promise also covers up to $1,000 for books and other expenses, a crucial component for low-income students.

San Diego is the first community college district in the state to try out a free program. It has one of the highest rates of homeless or at-risk students in the country, and 25% have reported dropping a class because of textbook expenses. The challenges for these students are more than financial, so San Diego Promise will include counseling and advisement requirements to ensure support.

The three colleges participating this fall are City, Mesa, and Miramar. Together they have about 2,500 incoming students annually from the San Diego Unified School District. Estimates place the cost of Promise at $3 million when fully functional; the pilot will cost $215,000.

A unique component of San Diego Promise is its emphasis on including adult learners, not just recent high school graduates. The pilot group includes 25 students coming out of continuing education. California’s immigrant communities, in particular, are able to take advantage of GED and similar learning programs past the age of public schooling. To build in their involvement in Promise right at the early stages is a sign of the commitment the community has to diverse students.

Other California counties are preparing to roll out Promise endeavors, with start dates in 2017 and 2018. The majority of the state is waiting and watching how San Diego Promise works before committing resources to their own developments.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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