The nonprofit SBCC Foundation launched SBCC Promise in 2016, offering high school graduates the opportunity to attend SBCC full-time, free of charge for two years. The program covers two years’ worth of tuition, fees, books and supplies for qualifying students.
As of July 1, the program will benefit 1,703 students for the fall semester, according to SBCC Promise Manager Sergio Lagunas.
Of the total number, more than 870 new high school graduates in the area will take advantage of the Promise in the fall.
SBCC’s district extends from Gaviota to Carpinteria, meaning all graduating high school seniors in that area would be eligible to apply for the program.
“From what I’ve been seeing, most students have been more intentional about enrolling at SBCC rather than waiting until August to fully commit,” Lagunas said. “Most students are committing to SBCC early on, and students are choosing SBCC because of the Promise, and because it’s in their own backyard rather than go to the four-year university in their first year.”
More than 1,040 Promise student are enrolled full-time (12 units or more) at SBCC, and were fully committed as of last week, Lagunas said.
The total number of students benefiting from the Promise program has remained relatively stable year to year.
“It usually stays about the same,” Lagunas said of the total number.
Some students who were accepted this fall to attend University of California schools, such as UCSB, and state universities including San Jose State, as well as colleges out of state in their first year, have expressed interest in the Promise.
“They are communicating with me directly, and asking if it’s too late to sign up,” Lagunas said. “I tell them — no, ideally, you want to get everything done before August, but you do have until you are ready to commit to SBCC, and be part of the promise.”
The fall semester begins Aug. 24 at SBCC, and a substantial majority of credit courses will be taught online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some students are taking online courses in the summer session to help better prepare for online instruction in the fall semester.
A handful of students are choosing to opt-out of the fall 2020 semester, but “not a lot,” Lagunas said.
“What they are communicating is they are not comfortable or confident about their study skills with online classes,” he said. “I have been encouraging them to take summer to try it out, and a lot have taken the opportunity to take online summer offerings.”
For the most part, Lagunas said, “students are enthusiastic and choosing to go to SBCC because it’s their local college, because it’s funded through the Promise, and students are seeing the opportunity as something that is the obvious choice.”
Local students in the Promise often go from SBCC to a school offering a four-year degree.
Students are “opting out of four-year universities to go to the community college, and then transfer at a later time,” Lagunas said.
Geoff Green, CEO of the SBCC Foundation, said that “there are two countervailing forces that are at work.”
Some college-bound students are reconsidering their plans and decisions amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The coronavirus pandemic has physically closed down nearly all West Coast universities and moved almost every in-person class to remote instruction.
“For students, that’s a disincentive and students are waiting it out,” Green said. “But, there are some students that might have gone straight into a four-year and realized that there is not a reason to pay that money for a non-product, and they are not getting the advantage of being on a campus like that.”
The Promise’s tuition-free program and other incentives are a draw for area students.
Historically, community college enrollment tends to spike during a recession, Green added.
“We sort of have this big question ahead of us for fall,” Green said. “Is this going to be an enrollment drop because the campus is largely closed or is the recession pressure going to push the other way?
“I think we just don’t know,” he continued. “Right now, that’s what the institution has its eye on as well.”
According to the College Board, the average in-district tuition and fees at public two-year colleges increased by $100, from $3,630 in the 2018-19 school year to $3,730 in 2019-20.
The average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public schools increased by $230, from $10,210 in the 2018-19 school year to $10,440 in 2019-20, the report said.
At four-year private universities, the average tuition and fees rose by $1,200, from $35,680 in the 2018-19 school year to $36,880 in 2019-20, according to the College Board’s data.
Students also pay other added costs and non-tuition expenses.
“Whether students live on or off campus, they (students) must pay for housing and food, buy books and supplies, and cover transportation and other basic living costs,” the College Board report said.
The Promise has two levels of coverage, Green said.
If a student has the California College Promise Grant — formerly known as the Board of Governors Fee Waiver —their fees are covered because they can demonstrate qualifying needs to the state. On average, the Promise covers $2,500 over two years for that student, Green said.
The Promise will provide about $5,000 per student over the course of two years for those who don’t qualify for the College Promise Grant.
The program supports students whether they want to pursue a four-year or graduate degree, a trade or technical skill, a certificate program, or an associate’s degree. The Promise relies on privately raised funds.
The program truly is a door wide open for every high school graduate, Green said.
“We, as a foundation, created the Promise because this community is committed to this idea that everyone deserves access to outstanding higher education,” Green said, “no matter what they want to do with it or what field they want to explore.”
Click here for more information about the Promise program.