The San Diego Promise: A Solid Investment In Our Future
By Dr. Constance M. Carroll, Chancellor of the San Diego Community College District.
This article was originally published on Forbes.
Maia Wakefield didn’t know what to expect when she learned about the San Diego Promise, a free tuition program that prompted her to enroll at San Diego Mesa College. Two years later, the 19-year-old scholar holds an associate degree in Black Studies and has acceptances at all 12 universities to which she applied.
David Evelo lost his job and his home after breaking both of his legs in a bike accident. Living out of his car, he learned about the San Diego Promise, earned an associate degree with a 3.9 GPA, and is transferring this fall to San Diego State University with plans to attend law school.
Romelia Turner left her job at Sharp Grossmont Hospital to take care of her mother and found it difficult to return to the workforce after her mom recovered. She was able to enroll at San Diego City College in fall 2016 because of the San Diego Promise. Today, the star student is preparing to transfer to Clark Atlanta University and planning for a career in mental health.
Wakefield, Evelo, and Turner embody how the San Diego Community College District’s San Diego Promise is transforming lives throughout California’s second-largest community college district. They underscore why, this fall, the District is expanding its tuition-free program by making all recent high school graduates who are first-time, full-time students eligible to receive two free years of college. Launched as a pilot in 2016 with less than 200 students, the expansion will benefit 3,500 or more students this coming academic year.
It’s hard to argue against improving access to college education, which is one reason why the free community college movement known as the College Promise is gaining in popularity across the country. Indeed today, a total of 16 states have statewide Promise programs; half of those states enacted their program in 2017. Just getting students to enroll in college is not enough. For a Promise program to be considered a success, it must produce rising completion rates.
That’s what is happening at the San Diego Community College District, where the program is designed to boost student success. Like so many College Promise programs scattered throughout the country — in places like Tennessee, Detroit, and Richmond, CA, it provides individualized support services, educational plans, orientation, and counseling to help ensure students earn a degree or certificate. Creating a pathway to success and building a sense of community are key reasons the average GPA for an African-American Promise student this past year was 3.33, nearly a full point above the 2.37 average GPA for other first-time, full-time African-American students in the district. Numerous San Diego Promise students who graduated in May are transferring to University of California San Diego, San Diego State University, and other four-year colleges and universities to pursue their education.
Many, if not most, San Diego Promise students simply would not have attended college if it were not for the San Diego Promise. But comprehensive Promise programs do come at a cost. The expanded San Diego Promise will cost an estimated $1.86 million in 2018-19, and it will be financed through a combination of public funds and private donations. Participating students’ first year at San Diego City, Mesa, or Miramar colleges will be covered through the new California College Promise program that expands the free-college movement in the nation’s most populous state. Students’ second year will be underwritten through a district-led fundraising campaign that already has raised nearly $700,000 with the help of corporate partners, community members, and employees. 83% of Promise students qualified for federal and/or state financial aid.
And the investment is paying off; San Diego Community College District alumni play a critical role in fueling the regional economy. Graduates earn on average $400,000 more during their working lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma.
Oscar-nominated actor and San Diego Mesa College alumna Annette Bening – a San Diego Promise donor – is scheduled to headline a September 20 benefit gala in San Diego. Along with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconor, Benning serves as co-chair of fundraising efforts to maintain and expand the San Diego Promise. Their goal for the gala is to raise more than $100,000 for the Promise and to add to the growing list of local philanthropists who are already backing it. Potential donors will hear several student speakers who share their stories demonstrating how the Promise is transforming their lives.
The campaign to raise funding to expand the Promise to a second year of study is making steady progress towards its $1.3 million goal. Local philanthropists who have already provided generous financial support include San Diego businessman Roger Frey, who has given more than $100,000 this year, San Diego Padres owners Ron and Alexis Fowler, who provided a $200,000 matching challenge gift, and Peter Seidler, another co-owner of the Padres.
Through the San Diego Promise, and through the free community college movement sweeping across the country, America is investing in its future. Just ask Maia Wakefield, David Evelo, and Romelia Turner.