Free College Promise Approved

By Mario A. Cortez

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As higher education expenses keep climbing across the nation, 200 local community college students will soon catch a break from the high fees.

The San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) Board of Trustees approved a pilot
program that will aid 200 deserving students starting college in the fall 2016 semester by waiving these students’ course fees for the duration of the 2016-2017 school year.

The plan which was approved last Thursday, will initially aid 175 students in the San Diego Unified School District and an additional 25 students in SDCCD’s continuing education programs.

In his 2015 state of the Union Address, President Barack Obama unveiled the America’s College Promise program, aimed at making the first two years of higher education free for what was described as “responsible students.” The program at SDCCD is based on this model which is now in place at over 100 community colleges across America with more being currently developed.

Constance M. Carroll,  SDCCD Chancellor, has stated that the district is using this pilot program to prepare for broader implementation in the fall 2017 semester.
“We will have a local impact by ensuring that students in the pilot program will come to

City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges from local high schools and from our own Continuing Education division.  This will be a great benefit for students,” Carroll said.
San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten also expressed approval at the implementation of the pilot program.

“This is an important opportunity for our students to access higher education free of charge through this new program. It is another excellent example of how our partnership with SDCCD benefits San Diego students. We are excited to participate.”

Students who will participate in the pilot program must maintain a minimum Grade Point Average of 2.0, be involved in eight hours of community service, and be enrolled as full time students (taking at least 12 class units) in both the fall and spring semesters of the upcoming  school year.

While the program has been approved on a pilot basis, there is still a need to finalize applicant specifics as well as the student selection process. These details are expected to be specified by April. As of now, the program is only open to SDUSD and San Diego Continuing Education students.

Funding for this pilot program comes from non-state funds and self-funding. These are covering the estimated cost of  $215,000 in the pilot’s first year. The district is looking to fundraise through foundations that support the district’s colleges.

“We’re self-funding the pilot to begin with, and we’re hoping to raise money,” Carroll said. “My goal would be to raise an endowment of $10 million or $12 million to retire the cost of the total expanded program, which would cost somewhere around $1 million. Then it would be an ongoing program.”

Currently California Community College students do not pay tuition charges but rather class fees of $46 per class unit. A student enrolled in the 12 unit minimum for full time student status would normally pay $1,104 every academic year, this in addition to institutional fees and course materials.

A majority of students enrolled in local community colleges across the county are already beneficiaries of student aid which partially or fully covers the needs of these students.
Applicants to this program who have their financial needs met through student financial aid can receive receive up to $1,000 in grants for textbooks and other supplies.

Chancellor Carroll, who is also a member of the California College Promise Committee,
has claimed that the local implementation of the Promise program is in accordance with efforts at the state and national endeavors to eventually make access to community college available to all.

The San Diego Community College District currently manages three local community colleges (Mesa College, City College and Miramar College) and a continuing education program. It is estimated that the district has an enrollment total of 100,00 students in all four institutions.

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