By Lauren Ford, Biden Fellow for Higher Education
I remember receiving my acceptance letter from Xavier University (OH), how excited I was to realize my dream of going to college, and the pride on my parents’ faces. I also remember about 15 minutes into the celebration, the look of concern on my mother’s face as she said aloud, “I don’t know how we’re going to pay for this.”
Fortunately, I received academic and community scholarships that helped me achieve my dream of attending Xavier, but I know that that path is not viable for every student. But the concern that my mother had regarding how to pay for tuition is still a reality for over 70 percent of students and families, and continues to rise every year.
I proudly work at Skyline College, a community college in San Bruno, CA, that promotes social and economic advancement for students while also helping to offset costs through a College Promise program. Understanding the ways in which a College Promise program can significantly impact our most underserved communities is the focus of my doctoral work at San Francisco State University, and it’s what motivated me to apply for the Biden Fellowship to work on community college access, completion, and workforce development. Understanding the challenge that students and families face in their attempt to achieve those social and economic benefits, due to the cost of attendance, is what drove me to investigate ways in which institutions can remove barriers for students and create opportunities for access.
On June 4th, Skyline College officially launched our Promise Scholars Program by welcoming the fall 2018 cohort. Over 300 incoming students attended ‘Promise Day,’ which served as an orientation for students to learn more about the program, gain a better understanding of the community at large, and meet supportive faculty, staff, and peers. Our local radio station was present and created a celebratory atmosphere, with music, prizes, and giveaways! Like many Promise programs, there are some requirements for students. They are required to register full-time (12 units), meet with their Promise Counselor, and participate in predetermined Promise activities in order to maintain eligibility in the program. In return, students receive free tuition, a voucher to pay for books, a monthly transportation incentive, and dedicated support to keep them on track to timely goal completion.
Almost half of the students who enter the doors of community colleges do not complete their educational goal after six years. This is where the Promise Scholars Program, like many College Promise programs, comes in. The goal of the Promise Scholars Program is not only to assist students in their ability to financially access the college, but also to put them on track to timely completion. The required meetings with counselors and Promise activities are intentionally scaffolded throughout the students’ first year to set them on a path to success towards a three-year completion goal.
I often think back to my own college experience. Though I didn’t attend a community college it wasn’t because I did not want to, but rather I didn’t even know what a community college was. I didn’t understand the value of community colleges: Students have access to excellent educators and resources, small classroom sizes, and incredible financial support. Even for students who had less-than-ideal previous educational experiences, community colleges give them a second chance to pursue higher education.
While working at Skyline College, I have met amazing students from different walks of life who were all motivated to attend college in order to develop new skills or transfer to a four year college or university. We have automotive alumni who work at Tesla, students who barely graduated from high school who transferred into UC Berkeley, and a number of surgical technicians and respiratory care specialists who help save lives every day. We also provide amazing study abroad opportunities so that students can see the world and experience different cultures. I had no idea! But now I do.
On Promise Day, one of our new students, Juan, mentioned to me, “I think this is going to be a great resource. I’m excited for college.” I’m excited for Juan, and the rest of the fall 2018 cohort of Promise Scholars, too.
Lauren Ford is the College Recruiter at Skyline College, a doctoral student at San Francisco State University Graduate School of Education, and the Biden Fellow for Community College.
This post is part of our “The Heart of the Issue” series, blogs authored by the Biden Fellows. Each Fellow has a close connection to one or more of the Biden Foundation’s policy pillars, and their updates will bring you straight to the heart of the issues that drive our work forward. You can catch up on the rest of the series here: