Students find bridge to college with San Diego Promise program

Posted: Thursday, May 9th 2019

“Free college tuition!” Unsurprisingly, the words caught Marcelo Cong’s eye while he was a student at Mira Mesa High School. He had dreams of a career in aerospace engineering but had faced some obstacles after his family emigrated to San Diego from Brazil.

Now, just a few years later, Cong has earned an associate’s degree from Miramar College and is mentoring high school students as he prepares to transfer to either the University of California Los Angeles or Stanford University. He is one of about 100 San Diego students who attended community college at no cost, and will graduate this spring as part of the second cohort of the San Diego Promise program.

“For me, two years at Miramar College were just what I needed to continue to develop my scholastic skills and grow and mature as a person,” says Cong. “The Promise has so many incredible benefits for high school students that I am consistently surprised more seniors are not aware of it.”

A partnership between the San Diego Unified School District and the San Diego Community College District, the San Diego Promise was launched as a pilot program in 2016. The goal of the program was to provide more students a path to higher education with community college as a natural bridge. The first cohort resulted in 20 students successfully attaining an associate’s degree. This year’s graduating class is much larger, with the program having expanded significantly.

The Promise uses funds from the state of California as well as individual donors to pay for two years of tuition at a local community college for full-time students graduating from a local high school who have not attended college before. Students completing these two years then gain advantages in transferring to four-year universities to continue their education.

Along with tuition, the Promise provides students counseling and mentorship from adults and college students who have gone through the program themselves, participation in skills-focused workshops, and other personal and professional development opportunities.

Promise students have demonstrated stronger-than-average performance at their respective colleges. The program’s data indicates that these students show greater campus engagement, higher GPAs, more units completed, higher rates of successful course completion, higher material retention and higher rates of completion for transfer-level English and math courses. 

Another student in this year’s graduating class, Oscar Garza, credits the Promise with a dramatic change in his future ambitions. In high school, Garza intended to work as a laborer after graduation until an English teacher told him about the San Diego Promise and its path to continued education at San Diego City College.

“It changed my life,” said Garza. “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. If you’re lost in life, being here can help you out, 100 percent.”

Now, just two years removed from high school, Garza will graduate with an associate’s degree in kinesiology and will transfer to San Diego State University in the fall.

Approximately 1,500 students graduating from San Diego Unified high schools this year will be eligible for the San Diego Promise. They include students from Mira Mesa, Scripps Ranch, Madison, Hoover, Serra, University City, Point Loma, La Jolla, Mission Bay, Clairemont, Crawford, Lincoln and Kearny high schools. Students will continue their schooling at one of three San Diego Community College District campuses: City College, Mesa College or Miramar college.

Click here to learn more about the San Diego Promise.

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