Seven Mayors Championing Free Community College

Seven Mayors Championing Free Community College

By Brenna Parker, Digital Coordinator for College Promise

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This week, mayors from across the country are gathering in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting. They will address a broad range of pressing issues in their communities, but among the most urgent topics they will discuss are workforce development, economic mobility, and education. Many of these leaders will be building on a decade of progress made in local communities.

In 2008, Bill Haslam was Mayor of Knoxville, TN, when a local philanthropist decided to fund an innovative idea—free community college for all high school graduates. Mayor Haslam was initially skeptical, but by the time he was elected Governor of Tennessee in 2010, he was convinced. That’s why he launched the Tennessee Promise, becoming the first state in the nation to create a statewide free community college program.

Inspired by the success of the Tennessee Promise and other free community college programs, many mayors have become advocates for College Promise in their cities as a way to boost college enrollment for their residents to meet the growing workforce needs in their communities.

Among many, these seven mayors are making education beyond high school a priority by supporting free community college programs in their cities:

1. Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, West Sacramento, CA

Mayor Cabaldon made helping kids stay on track to complete a college degree or certificate a key priority with the West Sacramento Home RunThe initiative takes a comprehensive approach—investing in students from preschool onward, helping them succeed in and out of the classroom to become college and career ready, and funding their tuition and fees for the first year. In November 2016, city residents passed quarter of a cent sales and use tax measure into law as part of a city-wide ballot initiative. As a member of the College Promise National Advisory Board, Mayor Cabaldon is also a national advocate for free community college at forums across the country from the Federal Reserve, SXSW, and the United States Conference of Mayors.

2. Mayor Lenny Curry, Jacksonville, FL

The Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) Promise is funded by the FSCJ Foundation. Mayor Curry has played a key role in ensuring that students who would benefit are made aware of the program by raising its profile. The FSCJ Promise offers eligible students the opportunity to attend Florida State College at Jacksonville without worrying about how they’ll pay for tuition, fees, or books. To be eligible, students must have graduated in the past three years from a Nassau or Duval county high school and have demonstrated financial need.

3. Mayor Catherine Pugh, Baltimore, MD

Last August, Mayor Pugh unveiled a free community college plan as part of a comprehensive proposal to combat crime and violence in the city. Beginning this fall, the city will cover the tuition and fees for recent graduates of Baltimore’s public high schools to attend Baltimore City Community College for a one-year certificate or two-year degree. Another component of the the plan is to invest in recreation centers, workforce training, and public-private partnerships to help high school seniors enter the workforce while pursuing their education. After the free college announcement, Coppin State University, a local Historically Black University, agreed to partner with the city for two additional years of free tuition for students to earn their Bachelor’s degree.

4. Mayor Marty Walsh, Boston, MA

Through a bipartisan partnership between Boston Mayor Marty J. Walsh (D) and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R), the Boston Bridge Pilot Program enables low-income students to attend a Boston community college and continue to complete the bachelor’s degree at a state university without paying tuition or fees. Under this partnership, the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are working together to help students pay for higher education from the time they enter the community college through their four-year graduation in the Bay State.

5. Mayor Jenny Durkan, Seattle, WA

On her first day in office, Durkan fulfilled a campaign pledge by signing an executive order to make a community and technical college education free for the city’s recent high school graduates. City officials are currently drafting a framework for the Seattle Promise Tuition Program. “The City of Seattle must play an active role in reducing and removing financial barriers that keep our high school graduates from going to college or getting technical training,” said Mayor Durkan. “Creating the Seattle Promise will build economic opportunity through education and help to make progress to reduce the opportunity gap for students of color.”

6. Mayor Michael Tubbs, Stockton, CA

Last week, Mayor Tubbs announced the Stockton Scholars program, which launched with a $20 million investment from an anonymous donor. It will cover community college and state university costs for Stockton Unified School District graduates. With only 17 percent of adults in their community holding a college degree, Mayor Tubbs recognized that a jolt to the system was needed.  His vision in the years ahead is to expand the Stockton Scholars to cover graduates city-wide. To that end, the program aims to raise a total of $100 million.

7. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles, CA

In September 2016, Mayor Eric Garcetti and a host of local and national partners launched the Los Angeles College Promise, a program that provides one year of free community college to all full-time students graduating from the Los Angeles Unified School District and the city’s charter schools. The program, which started serving students in Fall 2017, provides a comprehensive set of academic and social support services to ensure that students succeed in college and are prepared for the workforce.

Take Action

Building a College Promise program is an investment in your community. In March 2018, the College Promise Campaign will release a Playbook for mayors, county executives, other elected officials, and their staffs on how to build a College Promise program. Visit our website to see a preview of the Playbook and to sign up to receive it once it has launched.

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