The SDCCD delegation at the conference.

Seated from left to right, Denise Whisenhunt, Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Chancellor Constance M. Carroll, and Bernie Rhinerson. Standing, from left, Ashanti Hands, Star Rivera-Lacey, Lynn Neault, Cheryl Hibbeln, Stephanie Bulger and Jack Beresford.

Leaders mobilize to expand tuition-free community college

September 1, 2016 | San Diego Community College District

San Diego Community College District leaders joined hundreds of community college representatives from around the state in Oakland on Aug. 30 to share effective models for strengthening and expanding the California College Promise, a bold effort to offer two years of tuition-free community college to hard-working students. 

Chancellor Constance Carroll and Martha Kanter

Martha Kanter and Chancellor Constance M. Carroll.

The day-long event — which featured remarks from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, incoming California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, SDCCD Chancellor Constance M. Carroll, and national College Promise Campaign Executive Director Martha Kanter — highlighted College Promise programs already in place and offered ideas to college leaders looking to start their own programs. College Promise programs are community-based partnerships that address the problem of college affordability by offering higher education funding for students. 

Chancellor Carroll welcomed attendees at the start of the conference and provided an overview of the day.

Chancellor Carroll welcomed attendees at the start of the conference and provided an overview of the day.

The SDCCD launched a pilot program, called the San Diego Promise, earlier this year.  This fall, the first 201 San Diego Promise students were enrolled at City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges.  Students participating in the pilot program pay no enrollment fees and receive a $1,000 book grant.

“The San Diego Community College District is committed to doing whatever we can to eliminate cost barriers for students so that they can take full advantage of a college education,” said Chancellor Carroll.  “By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some level of college, which is a compelling reason for ensuring that our community has full access to pathways leading to economic improvement.”

Over the last 15 years, there has been a steady rise in the number of College Promise programs across the United States. The trend gained momentum in 2015, when President Barack Obama announced the America’s College Promise proposal during his State of the Union address. That same year, the College Promise Campaign, a national non-partisan, nonprofit organization, was established to develop a network of support for College Promise efforts.

“The jobs of today and tomorrow require college educated workers, and community colleges are in the best position to help remedy the skills gap that exists in California’s economy and attack income inequality,” said Oakley, who takes over as statewide chancellor in December. “These innovative partnerships lower the cost of college and help students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, earn a certificate or degree and find good paying jobs.”

As president of Long Beach City College, Oakley helped form the nationally recognized Long Beach College Promise (College Promise) in a partnership with the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Through the College Promise, students are guaranteed a tuition-free year at LBCC and preferred admission status to CSULB after completing the minimum transfer requirements. 

“California is on-track to produce 1.1 million fewer college graduates than our economy demands in 2030. There is an imminent need for a workforce with an appropriate level of advanced education. California’s Community Colleges are a critical point of access to higher education, and one of our most effective tools for upward mobility,”  Newsom said. “Moreover, robust cradle-to-career initiatives like the Promise Programs in Oakland and Long Beach reveal the power of communities rallying to lift up their young people. We must double down on these efforts and launch a statewide California Promise, allowing all of our state's regions to rise together."

California is a leader in the development and implementation of these programs with 23 programs in place as of August 2016. The state is primed to develop more College Promise programs because community colleges can leverage the program’s financial and partnership supports with the existing California Board of Governors Fee Waiver Program, which pays enrollment fees for low-income students. Promise programs bring together partners from K–12 schools, universities, college foundations and the private sector to increase college access to California’s students.

Key goals of the conference for faculty, staff, administrators and trustees in attendance included:

- Gaining an understanding of the national and statewide College Promise movement.

- Learning how to design, implement, and improve program elements such as financing, student support services, community partnerships, measurement and community outreach.

- Connecting with and building a community of College Promise colleagues across the state.

"The California Community Colleges is the largest higher education system in the nation, and to see the interest and excitement about creating College Promise programs is wonderful," said California College Promise Chair Helen Benjamin, chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District. “For more than 30 years, California, with its Board of Governors Fee Waiver program, has offered free tuition for qualified students unable to afford it. By raising funds and providing financial help for other college costs associated, we are removing a major barrier for potential students to obtain the education they need to qualify for good-paying jobs or transfer to a four-year university."

In addition to Chancellor Carroll, SDCCD participants in the California College Promise conference included Trustee Bernie Rhinerson, City College Interim President Denise Whisenhunt, San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE) President Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Vice Chancellor of Student Services Lynn Neault, Vice Chancellor of Instructional Services Stephanie Bulger, Mesa College Vice President of Student Services Ashanti Hands, Miramar College Vice President of Student Services Gerald Ramsey, SDCE Vice President of Student Services Star Rivera-Lacey, and Director of Communications and Public Relations Jack Beresford.  Cheryl Hibbeln, the San Diego Unified School District’s Executive Director of Secondary Schools, also participated as part of the San Diego Promise delegation.


CEOs from 60 of California’s 72 community college districts gathered for the California College Promise conference.

CEOs from 60 of California’s 72 community college districts gathered for the California College Promise conference.

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