Tuition-Free San Diego Promise Program Attracting a Record Number of Students for the 2020-21 Academic Year

San Diego Miramar College student Jillian Fortner, a resident of Poway, says the additional support services available through the San Diego Promise are as important as the two years of free tuition. (Photo courtesy of SDCCD)

A record number of freshmen – approximately 2,300 in all – are enrolling this fall in the groundbreaking San Diego Promise that provides two full years of tuition-free education in addition to support services for students who might not otherwise be able to pursue a college degree.

Enrollment is booming for good reason. “When I found out about the Promise, I thought, this is a no-brainer,” said Miramar College sophomore Jillian Fortner. “First of all, it helps everyone financially, but also you get a community when you get into college and people are there to help and support you. You have tutors and mentors and it’s overall just a great place to meet people.”

Fortner and others in the 2020-21 San Diego Promise cohort joined the nearly 1,800 students starting their second year in the program when the fall semester began August 17. Including the new cohort, the San Diego Promise has served more than 6,600 students since its implementation as a pilot program in the fall of 2016.

The San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) launched the San Diego Promise to ensure that no deserving student is denied the opportunity to earn a college degree or certificate. Besides covering two full years of tuition-free education, the program provides textbook grants, counseling, and the kind of hands-on support that is helping students at San Diego City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges develop an educational plan meeting their career and academic goals.

“We are very proud of this program, which provides access to community college education for students who might otherwise have been excluded due to financial demands,” said SDCCD Chancellor Constance M. Carroll. “We are also proud of the students who have taken advantage of this program and used it to transform their lives.”

An analysis of the program presented to the SDCCD’s Board of Trustees in January showed that San Diego Promise students attempt more units, are more engaged on campus, are more likely to earn degrees and certificates, and are more diverse backgrounds than their non-Promise peers.

“The Promise has helped me by really giving me a community,” said City College student Carlos Herrera. “Someone that’s going through the same experiences I’m going through.”

A total of 168 San Diego Promise students graduated with the Class of 2020, and many are now enrolled at some of the top universities in the country, including UCLA and UC Berkeley.

“The Promise has benefitted me immensely,” said Mesa College graduate Alexander Pesiri, 21, who is transferring to UC San Diego. “None of this would not have happened had it not been for the opportunity I had at Mesa College. The Summer CRUISE Program was wonderful, the Mathletics program helped me a lot, and the professors were extremely kind and extremely caring. I am very thankful.”

The San Diego Promise is funded through the support of generous donors, who have contributed more than $1.3 million to the initiative, and the statewide California College Promise.