Allan Hancock College announces program to provide tuition-free first year to local high school graduates.  (Contributed photo)

Allan Hancock College unveiled a promise for high school graduates starting in 2018 — free tuition and fees for the first year at the community college in northern Santa Barbara County.

On Friday, administrators unveiled the Hancock Promise granting the first year free at AHC, a value of about $1,200 per student.

“What’s cool about ours and makes it a little different is it has four components,” Hancock spokesman Andrew Masuda told Noozhawk. 

Hancock Promise features steps to encourage youths to attend the community college with Bulldog Bound aimed at fifth- through eighth-graders and Path to Promise targeting high schools students. 

After the first year free, the Extended Promise looks to help students transfer to a four-year university. The program was announced to staff and faculty ahead of the start of the fall semester.

To be eligible for free tuition, students must enroll at Hancock College directly after graduating from  a high school in the district including public, private or home schools.They must enroll in Hancock for the following fall. 

The Allan Hancock College Joint Community College District encompasses Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Ynez and Cuyama valleys.

Students also must complete financial aide applications, register for a minimum of 12 units in both fall and spring semesters, maintain a grade point average of 2.0 in the fall to be eligible in the spring, and complete one math and one English class during the first year at Hancock. 

To pay for the Hancock Promise, estimated as a $400,000 annual commitment, the college will launch a $10-million endowment campaign with a five-year goal to get the funds to sustain the program through the years. 

So far, early donors have funded the program for approximately four to five years, according to Susan Houghton, executive director for college advancement.

“We hope our community will embrace Promise and the future for our students the way they’ve embraced Allan Hancock College, because this is the future for our area and we think it’s going to make a significant difference,” Houghton said.

But the Extended Promise, the fourth step of the program, will help students get scholarships and ensure they are on track to meet their goals, whether it’s transferring to a four-year university or completing a program at Hancock. 

Other schools have seen a boost in enrollment after adopting similar tuition-free programs. Currently, Hancock only sees 34 percent of the students from local high schools enroll in classes at the college. 

Bulldog Bound exposes youths early to college with events like Career Exploration Day, planned for Oct. 6, for junior high and high school students and popular Friday Night Science.

They also plan activities for fifth- and sixth-graders such as Sports with Spike, Bulldog Builders for architecture, Paws for Police or Drama Dogs to get youths familiar with programs on campus.

The first Bulldog Bound event will be Sept. 30 when all fifth-graders and their families will be admitted to the Hancock football game for free with lunch also provided.

“These are events we have to draw them to campus,” Masuda said, adding the goal is to get students to declare they are Bulldog Bound.

Path to Promise for high-schoolers calls for encouraging students to attend conferences or take college classes either on campus or through concurrent enrollment. 

The four-step program aims to remove the stigma of going to a community college, rather than a four-year university, and also recognizes many of Hancock potential students would be the first in their families go pursue higher education.

Hancock follows Cuesta Community College and Santa Barbara City College in offering similar tuition assistance programs to their high school graduates. 

The SBCC Promise program offers free tuition and two years’ worth of books and supplies to local high school graduates.

Hundreds of students have already signed up, with an expected 1,500 SBCC Promise students enrolled for the fall semester. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Fac