Here’s How Los Angeles Is Building Promise For High School Graduates
By Sarina Wang
This spring, I will graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles. When asked about my college experience, I always mention the stellar classes, the beautiful campus, and the intense (but fun) school rivalries. But when I speak about my opportunities as a college student, I always begin my story at the same place: Mt. San Antonio College, the community college where I started my undergraduate career.
Attending community college for two years enabled me to develop valuable relationships with my professors who knew all of their students by name. For me, attending community college had many benefits including being able to save on tuition and reap the benefit of knowing each of my professors well. But for many students, the cost of community college presents a financial burden.
I think of my friend Hung, who worked an average of 30 hours a week at two jobs to pay for his studies and support his family. Unfortunately Hung’s story is not unique. Thousands of students throughout the country face the same burden. And far too many drop out or give up the idea of going to college altogether, finding it impossible to balance the demands of attending school while working full-time.
That’s why I’m passionate about my work interning on the College Promise Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative that builds broad public support to make community college free. Students like Hung deserve the opportunity to pursue higher education without overwhelming financial burdens. In the past three years, the number of College Promise programs have more than quadrupled. Over 200 College Promise programs have emerged in communities and states throughout the country, providing students with both the financial and social support they need.
I’m proud to say that this year, my hometown launched the Los Angeles College Promise, giving a year of free community college tuition to recent high school graduates. The Promise also includes support services such as tutoring, mentoring, and financial literacy workshops to help students succeed. Local officials launched the program to encourage more students to attend college and build a better future.
“What you are doing in L.A. is a model for the nation — showing that one of the biggest cities can make free community college possible,” said then Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on stage to announce the Promise in September 2016. In addition to teaching at Northern Virginia Community College, Dr. Biden also serves as Honorary Chair of the College Promise Campaign’s National Advisory Board and continues to be an advocate for free community college.
Since the announcement, the Los Angeles College Promise is already changing lives. Here are a few examples:
Daniel Larrera was not sure if his family could afford to send both him and his mom to Los Angeles Mission College (LAMC) at the same time. But now, with the Promise covering Daniel’s tuition, the two are both enrolled in school. They take the same classes in order to save money on textbooks.
“The Promise Program impacted my life in the best way possible. It gave me the chance to further my educational career sooner than I expected.”
Isabella Martinez was not eligible for financial aid at Los Angeles Harbor College even though her father was involved in a life-threatening accident and lost a significant portion of his income. Isabella thought that she needed to put her education on hold until she had enough money saved up. That’s when she found out about the Promise.
“A lot can happen in a few years, and I’m thankful that the Promise was there to help me in my time of need.”
Devin Ford’s dream of attending Los Angeles Trade-Technical College’s (LATTC) power pole-climbing program was derailed because he could not afford the transportation costs. Because LATTC was located two hours away, Devin felt that his only option was to pick the closest college to take general education classes. With the Promise, Devin had the financial support needed to attend LATTC.
“Because of the Promise, I am now on my way to finishing the program I wanted in the beginning. I am studying with individuals who have had prior experience in the construction industry. It is only because of the Promise that students like me don’t have to modify their passions, but chase after exactly what they want to do.”
The Los Angeles College Promise is removing financial barriers for underprivileged students so they can pursue higher education without burdensome debt and seek and complete the college education that may seem out of reach. I’m hopeful that other communities will be inspired by the Los Angeles College Promise and make community college more affordable and accessible in the same way that elementary and secondary education is afforded to all.
That’s why I support the movement for free community college— and you can join me: Find out more about the College Promise movement!