The San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) on Monday announced a major expansion of its tuition-free program known as the San Diego Promise, making all recent high school graduates who are first-time, full-time students eligible to receive two free years of college.
The expanded program will cost an estimated $1.86 million in 2018-2019 and be paid for using a combination of state and non-state funds. Participating students’ first year will be funded through an allocation in the state budget called the California College Promise. Students’ second year will be underwritten through a district-led fundraising campaign.
Participating students may attend San Diego City, San Diego Mesa and/or San Diego Miramar colleges. The district estimates 3,500 or more students may benefit from the San Diego Promise in the 2018-19 academic year.
To qualify, students must be a state resident or have attended a California high school for three years, have earned a high school diploma in June 2017 or later, be a first-time college student, enroll in at least 12 units, and have completed a 2018-19 federal aid application or Dream Act application.
Services and counseling, too
District officials stressed the importance of providing two years of free tuition which will allow full-time students to complete their program of study and enter the workforce or transfer to a university.
“A college education is key to economic advancement, since most jobs now require some level of postsecondary preparation,” said SDCCD Chancellor Constance Carroll, who added that the program also includes support services, educational planning tools and counseling to ensure students’ success in obtaining a degree or certificate.
“This is all part of a team effort to provide equitable access to our colleges and to improve student outcomes once they are enrolled,” she said.
As part of the fundraising effort to generate more community involvement in the San Diego Promise, Oscar-nominated actress and Mesa College alumna Annette Bening – a San Diego Promise donor – will headline a benefit gala at the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park in September.
A promising path
Launched as a pilot program in 2016 with 186 students, the San Diego Promise included 661 students at City, Mesa and Miramar colleges during the just-completed 2017-18 academic year. Expanding the program means first-time, full-time students this fall will not have to pay tuition for two years as long as they complete at least 12 units and maintain a 2.0 GPA.
“We are absolutely thrilled that the expanded San Diego Promise means all of these students who enroll full time will be eligible for two, tuition-free years at one of the finest community college systems in the country,” said Cindy Marten, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, who noted that historically one-third of graduating high school students from the district attend one of the three colleges participating in the Promise program.
Over its first two years, the San Diego Promise has demonstrated positive outcomes, according to the college. For example, 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, according to a district analysis.
In addition, 19 percent of San Diego Promise students – nearly one in five – had a 4.0 GPA this past year, whereas 12 percent of other first-time, full-time students had a 4.0 GPA. And several San Diego Promise students who graduated in May are transferring to the University of California San Diego, San Diego State University and other four-year colleges and universities.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer noted the higher salaries that SDCCD graduates earn – $400,000 more during their working lifetime than someone with just a high school diploma – and said the San Diego Promise is an investment in the region’s future.
“The San Diego Promise program is helping San Diego ensure that our workforce continues to be competitive,” Faulconer said. “We will have more well-trained graduates contributing to our economy and San Diego’s future rather than worrying about how they are going to pay off their student loan debt.”