Free community college for locals may sound like a pipe dream, but Geoff Green doesn’t think so.

Tuition-free community college used to be the norm for California residents, said the CEO of the Santa Barbara City College’s Foundation.

“In fact, it’s what we used to call normal,” Green said, adding that for 75 years, the California community colleges were tuition-free.

That’s exactly the concept he wants to bring back to SBCC, and is now in the midst of a major fundraising effort to make it happen.

The program would include paying for two years of books and supplies, what Green calls the “hard costs” of a college education for every student that wants and needs it from the local district.

Santa Barbara City College’s district extends from Gaviota to Carpinteria, so every graduating high school senior in that district would qualify.

Those students could use that time at City College for their associate’s degree or later transfer to a four-year university, he said.

About 44 percent of high school students in local districts go on to attend classes at city college after graduation, so “we have an outsized role,” he said of the college.

All of the monies for the program would come from privately raised funding, and would amount to about $1.5 million per year once the program is in full swing.

About 60 percent of SBCC’s students, 20,109 of them, come from within the district and 64 percent come from Santa Barbara County, according to SBCC numbers from the 2014-15 year.

Two-thirds of SBCC’s total enrollment are part-time students. 

Green said the group is still in the planning stages, but has support from key partners.

The idea arose for Green last fall as he was beginning in his new position at SBCC, and learned about the “College Promise” concept, which has been around about a decade

Green also said that the federal government is trying to create incentives for community colleges to become free or more affordable to students as they seek a two-year college plan.

“We’re proposing something considerably more ambitious,” he said.

Three districts in California are already conducting promise programs, including two neighbors of Santa Barbara County.

Ventura College has had such a program for nine years, and Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo started one last year.

Ventura funds the program from its existing funding base, and Cuesta was able to fund the program after getting a multi-million endowment, he said.

Long Beach City College also has a program which is more of “pathway program,” starting with students early in the education process, similar to the Harlem Children’s Zone or Thrive.

All look to remove the financial barrier of education, he said.

“Community college is the gateway, and we believe that should be completely accessible to all people,” he said.

Greene has immersed himself in data and said that three things correlate with college success; How soon a student enrolls in college after high school, if they are a full-time student, and the speed of completion are all directly related to graduation rates, he said.

The group will likely be in the planning stage until February, and then will be securing lead gifts that would make the plan possible. Green expected to have more updates about the plan by the beginning of April.

“If any community can do this in Santa Barbara,” he said. “There’s just no reason we can’t take this on.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.