Growing Roses From Concrete In Stockton, California
By Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California
When I took the oath of office in January of 2017, from the stage of the Bob Hope Theater, I told the citizens of Stockton, California, that if we worked together, we could achieve anything. Only twelve months later, I stood on that same stage this week and announced a game-changing initiative called “Stockton Scholars” that will reshape the trajectory of the city for decades to come. Thanks to a generous, anonymous $20 million donation, the vast majority of students who graduate from the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) who want to attend college will have the financial assistance to do so.
Stockton is a city with abundant assets. We sit in the backyard of Silicon Valley, and we are about 45 minutes south of Sacramento, our state capital. Our deep channel Port of Stockton is a critical pathway for transporting goods across the state, and our agriculture feeds the world. We have such great potential to build a bigger and brighter future. But we can’t get there if we don’t invest in our most precious resource, our children.
Despite our strengths, we still struggle in many areas. We rank 14 out of 15 in the state for human capital. Only 17% of adults in our community hold a college degree. That’s not enough for our citizens or our local economy. If we want our students to have a fair shot at the American Dream—to acquire the education and skills they need for jobs of today and of tomorrow—we must make sure they complete their education beyond high school, whether that’s a college degree or job certification. We cannot build a robust economy and attract investment, until we provide our children and their families with affordable opportunities for college and careers—education is our pathway to success.
Only about a third of freshman high school students currently enrolled in the SUSD will qualify to attend a state university after 12th grade. Of those students fortunate enough to attend college, many drop out because of the financial hardships and barriers they face. Stockton Scholars can address both of these challenges. By providing a $4,000 scholarship to attend state schools and $1,000 for community or technical college, we will lessen the financial burden on students—effectively making California’s State colleges free for the vast majority of Stockton Unified students.
This first phase is opening the pathway to college and career for Stockton Unified, our school district with the largest number of students. Eventually, we hope to raise $100 million. This amount will provide support to all Stockton students in all four of our city school districts. Some may doubt our ability to raise such a large sum of money. However, in a city where our tallest building is a newly constructed courthouse, with a price tag of $300 million, surely we can find one-third of that funding to put our youth on the pathway to opportunity.
My life story is an example of the returns when we invest in our youth. Just ten years ago, I was a student at Franklin High School in Stockton, enrolled in the free-and-reduced lunch program, dreaming about college, but without the money to attend. The barriers that I confronted are like those that so many Stockton children currently face, what the late Tupac Shakur described as “roses trying to grow from concrete.”
This metaphor suggests that in certain conditions, conquering adversity and overcoming obstacles is possible, but incredibly difficult and not ideal. From this day forward, we will work together to ensure that a generation of Stockton Scholars will have better conditions for overcoming economic hardships.
Stockton Scholars was born in the reality that talent and intellect are universal, but resources and opportunities aren’t. In Stockton, we aim to change that equation by opening the doors of opportunity for our young people. In doing so, we will change the culture of Stockton so students will believe that education beyond high school is an achievable reality. In doing this work, we will transform into a community where we triple the number of college graduates, grow our human capital, and attract the high-wage jobs needed to build our future.
Stockton Scholars is an incredible opportunity for my community to reinvent itself into one where children are supported along the pathway to adulthood from cradle to career, and to make higher education attainable for everyone. For a city that has faced an abundance of challenges and setbacks, we are finally starting to turn the corner for a brighter future. Like that stubborn rose growing through the concrete—still, we rise.
Get started building a College Promise program in your community: collegepromise.org/start.
To learn more Michael Tubbs and Stockton Scholars visit: stocktonscholars.org.