Published on 2016/11/21

The San Diego Promise: Minimizing Barriers to Access Takes a Village

The EvoLLLution | The San Diego Promise: Minimizing Barriers to Access Takes a Village
Though Promise programs have fallen under the radar in recent months, minimizing financial barriers to postsecondary access is absolutely essential to ensuring the United States hits its 60-percent attainment target.

In 2015, President Barack Obama issued the America’s College Promise proposal, which endeavoured to make two-year postsecondary education as accessible to students as a high school education. Across the United States, cities and states took up the call to develop Promise programs aimed at taking on the non-academic barriers prospective students faced to enrolling in college. In this interview, Lynn Neault discusses the process of launching the San Diego Promise, and reflects on some of the immediate challenges she and her team are navigating.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is the San Diego Promise such an important program in today’s higher education environment?

Lynn Neault (LN): The San Diego Promise is a pilot program based upon a national movement launched by President Barack Obama to ensure that no deserving local student is denied the opportunity to go to college due to lack of resources.

This is a partnership program with our local high school district to ensure that every student who graduates from our local high school district has the opportunity to go to college.

Evo: What are some of the most significant roadblocks you and your colleagues had to overcome to get the San Diego Promise in place?

LN: The most significant challenge for us is fundraising and getting the program funded. Our first pilot cohort is 186 students, and we estimate the first-year cost to be about $220,000, and then another $220,000 in the second year.

We’re beginning to launch a significant fundraising campaign to the community and to prospective donors to help us with this program, which is designed to support our economy and the future of our workforce here in San Diego. If you look at some of the national and statewide research, the data says that we’re going to fall short of the number of degrees that we require for jobs of the future.

This program is an effort to help prepare our workforce and ensure that students who can’t afford to go to college have the opportunity to enroll. It’s an investment in our community.

Evo: Do you foresee having to overcome any of the issues typically associated with particularly low-income students especially when it comes to retention persistence?

LN: Support services, monitoring, intervention and outreach to these students are significant components of our program.

There’s no doubt that many community college students—low-income or not—must navigate a number of challenges. Many of them are raising families, many more are the sole source of income for their families. Simply, life gets in the way sometimes. We see that a lot and for low-income, disadvantaged students the statistic is even higher.

We built outreach, counselling, intervention and learning community components to this program. Basically, students can get together and build a community, get engaged and help each other through the trials and tribulations of college.

Evo: How will the institutions in the San Diego Community College District benefit from the Promise program?

LN: Our basic mission as community colleges is to serve our community and students. Equity is a big commitment for us when it comes to fulfilling our mission. The San Diego Promise provides an equitable access to higher education programming for all members of our community.

Evo: How might the program evolve in the future, especially when it comes to creating more access for adult and non-traditional students?

LN: Our primary focus right now is our partnership with our local high school district. Our pilot cohort was 186 students and for next year, we’re currently in our planning stages, but it looks like we’ll be bringing in 675 students, which is quite a big jump. Additionally, we typically see about 2500 to 3000 of our local high school district graduates come to us each year. So serving this demographic and developing the resources to institutionalize the San Diego Promise for our high school graduates is our first priority.

Going forward, opening up this program to non-traditional students is certainly on the planning agenda but it’s very far out. Right now, our goal is to ensure that no deserving high school graduate is denied the opportunity to go to college.

Evo: When you envisioned and planned out this process did you use the models that states like Tennessee and Oregon have in place to develop the program, or did you start from scratch?

LN: We looked at a number of models to create the San Diego Promise. Tennessee and Oregon’s programs both run through a state-funded model. Of course, we’d like to see California fully fund this statewide. Right now we have the Board of Governor’s Fee Waiver, where the state pays the enrollment fees for low-income students, and we’d like to see that extended to all students because the cost of books, the cost of housing and the cost of food can all be barriers for students as well.

Evo: How similar is the San Diego Promise to the Long Beach’s Promise Pathways Program?

LN: Long Beach’s Promise Pathways Program is also in partnership with the city. I think our program is very similar to Long Beach, and Long Beach was one of the models that we looked at.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about your hopes for how the San Diego promise evolves?

LN: We’re very excited about this San Diego Promise program and we have significant institutional support. We believe it’s an important program for the communities that we serve, for our local economy and we’re very excited to have the opportunity to expand it.

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Key Takeaways

  • With the importance of postsecondary attainment to success in the labor market, colleges need to do more to minimize non-academic barriers to access.
  • Unlike Promise programs in Oregon and Tennessee, the San Diego Promise is a partnership with the city and not the state, which makes fundraising a critical priority to its long-term success.
  • Right now, the program is targeted at high school graduates who could not otherwise afford to enroll in a postsecondary program, but it may be expanded in future to create pathways for non-traditional students.
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