A fledgling program to help more than 100 high school graduates pay for community college starts next year in Rancho Cordova, and local leaders see it as a potential model that could eventually extend to high school graduates throughout the Sacramento region.
In Rancho Cordova, all students who reside in the city, graduate from high school in the 2016-17 school year and enroll full time at Folsom Lake College in fall 2017 would be eligible to have their tuition and fees paid largely from a 2014 voter-approved sales tax hike.
That’s $579 for full-time tuition and fees. Those who receive passing grades in at least half of 12 course units and continue full time into the second semester would be eligible for another $579 in assistance.
All Rancho Cordova students qualify regardless of income. Those already eligible for community college aid can use the money for other school-related expenses. The money comes after a unanimous vote by the Rancho Cordova City Council to dedicate $100,000 in Measure H funds for that purpose.
Chancellor Brian King of the Los Rios Community College District said Friday that he expects Folsom Lake College/Rancho Cordova College Promise to expand in the next several years. Sacramento leaders are already thinking about how to pursue a similar effort.
“My vision would be to make that a reality throughout the region, that we come together as a community and knock down the barriers that get in the way of students succeeding,” he said.
A comparable program could launch in West Sacramento if voters pass a tax measure on the November ballot, said West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.
Seniors at Cordova High School on Friday were enthusiastic.
Wendy Martinez, incoming senior class president at Cordova, is hoping to enroll next year into a four-year college but said, “the plans can change because of the money situation.”
“I was planning on living on my own. And I think this program would be super helpful to me and to other students,” said Wendy, 16. “I also think it’s going to encourage a lot more students to go to college who weren’t planning to go. It’s another source of income. Even though it’s not a huge amount of money, it could give them that push.”
Martinez, also the student membership chairman for the Parent Teacher Student Association at Cordova High and the student member of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District governing board, said she plans to spread the word.
“I definitely plan on discussing this with my friends and saying, ‘Hey this is an awesome opportunity that is also available to us,’” she said. “I have little sisters, so I’ll be talking to them about these programs. And I have lots of cousins in the city and the district.”
Senior Julissa Baza plans to talk with her parents about college. “I’m really undecided,” she said. “I want to major in math and science.”
Julissa is a member of the campus medical club Flatliners, Key Club volunteers and the swim club, she said. She’s also a member of the Parent Teacher Student Association, so she expects to talk to other students about the Promise program. It could help her, she said, because she will rely on financial aid programs.
The majority of students who attend Los Rios college campuses are already eligible for California Community Colleges fee waivers based on income. In Rancho Cordova, students who receive the waivers or federal Pell Grants would get a $579 check for expenses such as books, transportation or housing, said Kristy Hart, Folsom Lake College spokeswoman.
“People who qualify for financial aid really do have the need for the money,” she said.
I definitely plan on discussing this with my friends and saying, ‘Hey this is an awesome opportunity that is also available to us’
Wendy Martinez, incoming senior class president, Cordova High School
King said the effort to expand the Promise program is getting a boost from the city of Sacramento, Councilman Jay Schenirer and Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, who is “in tune with the need to better align high school and college.”
“Our goal would be to have that conversation with all the cities,” King said. “I think this is going to be one of the most important things our community does over the next three to five years.”
Cabaldon said the West Sacramento City Council is halfway through the process of formally putting a sales tax measure on the November ballot. And efforts to fund a program similar to the one in Rancho Cordova will benefit from voter approval.
“It’s not exactly the same, but it’s precisely in the same lane,” Cabaldon said. “The basic contours, in terms of the promise, are very similar.”
In West Sacramento, the program will emphasize easier access to community college, but put a premium on finding ways to ensure college completion, he said.
The Folsom Lake College/Rancho Cordova Promise was started with the $100,000 in seed money from the city’s voter-approved Measure H, the half-cent sales tax measure approved by Rancho Cordova voters in 2014. Rancho Cordova Mayor David Sander said in an announcement about the award that the city’s high school seniors “have been given a superior opportunity to attend a state-of-the-art college in their hometown and in the midst of potential employers.”
The main Folsom Lake College campus is in Folsom. But last October, the college consolidated its Rancho Cordova Center into 24,000 square feet of instructional space and student learning center with computer lab near a light rail station.
The College Promise program has attracted initial corporate commitments from Safe Credit Union, VSP Global and Dignity Health, college officials said.
College officials are hoping that first-year participation will reach about 110 students, or about a quarter of the 440 graduates from Rancho Cordova high schools that feed Folsom Lake College.
It is modeled after Long Beach College Promise and the Ventura College Promise. The Long Beach program has underwritten a free semester for close to 12,000 community college students, according to its website. The Ventura program is open to high school graduates in Ventura County. Folsom Lake officials said said the similar programs exist in about three dozen cities nationally.