Education

Starting college for free? Valley education leaders make it happen

Central Valley Promise rally highlights free start to college

Starting in 2018, students in five central San Joaquin Valley school districts – including Fresno Unified – will be able to get their first semester of community college for free and will later be guaranteed a spot at Fresno State, if they meet ad
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Starting in 2018, students in five central San Joaquin Valley school districts – including Fresno Unified – will be able to get their first semester of community college for free and will later be guaranteed a spot at Fresno State, if they meet ad

Starting in 2018, students in five central San Joaquin Valley school districts – including Fresno Unified – will be able to get their first semester of community college for free and will later be guaranteed a spot at Fresno State, if they meet admission requirements.

The Central Valley Promise, launched Wednesday, is part of a national campaign to make community college free for students. Three pathways offering the program have been identified so far:

▪ The East Side Pathway, which allows Kings Canyon Unified and Sanger Unified students free access to Reedley College.

▪ The West Side Pathway, which allows Mendota Unified and Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified students free access to West Hills College Coalinga.

▪ The Urban Pathway, which allows Fresno Unified students free access to Fresno City College.

Students have to meet the admission requirements at their respective community colleges to get the first semester free. If those students then want to transfer to Fresno State, their admission is guaranteed.

“What we’ve known for years now is kids who transfer from community college to Fresno State tend to graduate at much higher rates than kids who start right out of high school,” said Jim Marshall, Fresno State’s dean of research and graduate studies. “As long as they meet those admission requirements, there will be a spot for them.”

I’m telling you you’re good enough to go.

Martha Kanter, executive director of the College Promise Campaign

The Valley is joining 150 cities across the country offering College Promise programs, an initiative launched by President Barack Obama in 2015 that aims to make community college “as universal, free and affordable” as a high school education.

Some cities in California already offer similar programs. For example: All incoming Long Beach Unified students receive a tuition-free first year at Long Beach City College, and then are guaranteed admission to California State University, Long Beach.

The Central Valley Promise is paid for by the participating colleges, and a fundraising campaign is underway to get funding from communities and local businesses.

At the Save Mart Center on Wednesday, Fresno State President Joseph Castro and other area education leaders told hundreds of local middle and high school students about the campaign. They also unveiled a Central Valley Promise phone app that will reward students with prizes when they attend college fairs, apply for financial aid or take other steps toward the college-application process.

Martha Kanter, executive director of the national College Promise Campaign and former U.S. undersecretary of education, said the program is about making higher education accessible to all students regardless of income and giving them the confidence to apply.

“People like me, we’re all saying we have not done enough,” she said. “If anybody says we don’t believe in you – that you’re not smart enough – that’s not true. I’m telling you you’re good enough to go.”

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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