Promise fulfilled

By David Ogul

Community college students are making great strides with the San Diego Promise.

Among San Diego Community College District’s (SDCCD) record 4,000 graduates this spring are several dozen students from San Diego City, Mesa and Miramar colleges who are graduating debt-free thanks to the San Diego Promise free community college program.

At least 50 San Diego Promise students are expected to earn an associate degree this spring, and many others have completed their transfer requirements and have been accepted to a four-year university this fall.

That’s the type of return-on-investment that SDCCD leaders envisioned three years ago when they launched the program with a focus on completion.

The San Diego Promise provides two years of tuition-free education, book grants and support services for first-time, full-time students. It has grown to include more than 2,000 students in 2018-19 after being launched as a pilot program of 186 students just two years ago. More than 2,500 students have taken part in the program since it began in 2016-17.

Because of additional counseling and support services, San Diego Promise students earn higher GPAs, and complete more classes than their non-Promise peers, according to college officials.

On track toward occupational therapy

Oscar Garza was leaning toward working as a laborer after graduating from high school – until a friend urged him to enroll at San Diego City College and an English teacher told him about the San Diego Promise program that would cover his tuition and help pay for his books. Two years later, Garza graduates May 24 with an associate degree in kinesiology and will take a GPA in the neighborhood of 3.4 with him when he transfers to San Diego State University this fall.

His long-term goals include securing a master’s degree in occupational therapy and a career as an occupational therapist, a profession with an average annual wage of more than $93,000 in San Diego County, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It changed my life,” said Garza, 20. “The Promise provided me with so many resources and City College provided me with so many activities to get me on track and keep me on track so I could pursue my education.”

Garza – who is in the country through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – thought his formal education would end after earning his high school diploma, and he was set on going to work as a construction laborer.

“I didn’t really have the motivation to go to college,” he said. That changed after a close friend who attended City College urged him to give it a try. About the same time, his high school English instructor told him about the San Diego Promise.

Garza took part in a Promise orientation, met with counselors, developed an educational plan and enrolled in a personal growth class. He also was accepted into the San Diego City College Price Scholarship Program, which provides mentorship to incoming freshmen, affords invaluable volunteer experiences and provides a $10,000 scholarship. For the past two years, Garza has served as a mental health peer educator, “just educating people about mental health issues and letting them know about the mental health services that are out there.”

There’s more to the story! Read the full article, with more student stories, at CC Daily.

David Ogul

is a freelance writer for the San Diego Community College District.