By Jowel C. Laguerre, Ph.D., Chancellor, Peralta Community College District
Toward the end of his administration, President Obama introduced the idea of free college tuition for students attending a community college.
This aspiration has fueled a community college “movement,” which, at the Peralta Community College District alone, has inspired the Peralta Promise, the Oakland Promise, the Alameda Promise, and the Berkeley Promise. But there is much work to do. Each Promise cannot guarantee at this time a tuition free education, but it has guaranteed a commitment and strategy to help young people into and through a two-year college – including a tuition-free first year – along with realizing their desires to transfer to four year colleges.
Already some funds were set aside last year for the California Promise. Grants were given to a few community college districts to support, start, or grow their Promise programs. A current bill will ensure that more funds be made available to more fully implement the various promises to increase student access to an affordable college education, whether training for a career or preparing to transfer to a four-year university. One can measure the effectiveness of local and state Promise funding simply by listening to the many stories about how students’ and their families’ lives have been forever changed.
Critically, a statewide Promise will provide for greater access. It’s no secret that as the cost to attend California’s public universities continues to rise – and more students and their families rely on community colleges to save tens of thousands of dollars. The current Promise programs are very limited in their reach and offer access only to a few students. For various reasons, some students may not even be aware of the existence of the Promise programs. It’s our job to make sure they are informed about their college opportunities, for them and as an investment in the future of our communities.
The “Oakland Promise” has been one of the most heralded programs in the nation and is the most comprehensive I have seen, aiming to ensure every Oakland student from kindergarten through high school is able to attend college. Yet, some people are not aware that such an initiative exists. One possibility would be to couple the Promise program with the Board of Governors Fee Waiver, a program very well known among community college students. Coupling these programs will benefit both and better inform students of their options for attending – and completing – career training or university preparation at community colleges.
Finally, many colleges throughout the state are raising money for the College Promise programs they have started. The Peralta Colleges commitment will be to continue to do so. Just as the Oakland Promise shows, a college promise should be more than a tuition promise. College puts many demands on students, from food and housing to books and clothing, which the Promises should aim to address.
In these uncertain times, California should not be left behind by having a largely underfunded Promise program. I appeal to the legislature, Governor of California, and all our communities to gather together the will and the means to generously support our most precious resource and investment in our future generations: education.