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Cuesta Doubles Down on Promise

By Neil Farrell

Cuesta College officials have doubled down on the school’s “Promise Scholarships,” extending the fee-free first year to include a second year for SLO County graduates.

But SLO County high school students who graduated from a public or private school and even home schooled students, need to apply for the Promise Scholarships before Aug. 1 and they will get tuitions paid for both of their first 2 years.

Cuesta’s Promise Scholarships started in 2013 after the school received an $8 million donation from the Charles and Leeta Dovica Family Trust. The family wanted the money to go towards scholarships and so far nearly 3,000 students have taken them up on the offer.

The Promise Scholarships are worth about $1,400 over a 2-semester school year, paying for the per-unit cost of classes, health fees, Associated Students of Cuesta College fees, materials fees, Student Center fees, and the Student Rep fee. It doesn’t help with books, but they’re working on that as well.

“Five years ago, the goal was to support those who never dreamed of being able to attend college because of the cost,” said Cuesta Superintendent and President, Dr. Gil Stork. “We wanted to make college accessible to everyone.”

At a press conference June 14, Dr. Stork, said the expansion of the Promise Program takes Cuesta back to the 1970s and early ‘80s when community college educations were truly free.

He said 8-years ago, when he came out of retirement to lead Cuesta through an accreditation crisis, he visited Ventura College where they had a program offering one semester of fee-free schooling to Ventura County graduates.

“I thought ‘What a great gift,’” Dr. Stork said. When he got back he asked Cuesta Foundation director, Shannon Hill, to look into doing something similar at Cuesta. The Dovica Family’s donation made it possible.

“That first year was about opening the door, it was about access,” Dr. Stork said. They offered the scholarships with no strings attached, not SAT scores, or grade point averages. Just come, he said, and they will take care of you.

The program has really caught on. “Since 2013,” reads a news release, “Cuesta’s local high school graduate attendance rate went from 25 percent to more than 36 percent. Today, 90-percent of local graduates who attend Cuesta College immediately after graduating, come as Promise students.

“The class of 2017 saw 876 students attend Cuesta on the Promise, including 180 from Paso Robles High School, 130 from Atascadero High School, 123 from Arroyo Grande High School, 101 from San Luis Obispo High School, 80 from Morro Bay High School, 74 from Templeton High School, and 25 from Coast Union High School.” The Class of 2018 will be the first to get the 2-year Promise.

But adding that second year of free schooling for everyone was a bit tougher than the first offering and several funding sources came together to make it possible.

The first was the “California College Promise Grant,” formerly called the “Board of Governors Fee Waiver.” That program provides eligible students enrolled at California community colleges with free tuition.

Local donors came through big. “Year two of the Cuesta College Promise is largely in part due to the members of our local community, who have stepped forward with private donations,” said Hill. “In 2016, the effort to fundraise for a second year of the Promise was announced by Dr. Stork. Funding a second-year costs almost $10 million. The bar was set very high, but with Dr. Stork’s leadership, donations of almost $3 million have been received by the Foundation to date.”

Major donors include the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust ($1 million), the Estate of Mary Schwartz, the Estate of Laura Coats, Rick and Jill Stollmeyer, PG&E, and Dr. Grace Crittenden.

The third component was the recent passage of Assembly Bill 19, part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2018-19 proposed State budget. AB 19 pays for the tuition of first-time, full-time students.

Dr. Stork noted that they have 1,700 SLO County grads who could go to Cuesta in the fall, though not all will actually attend. As of the news conference, they had 650 signed up and awarded Promise Scholarships, with hundreds more somewhere in the process.

Applications, as well as enrollment information is available online, see: cuesta.edu. Undocumented students are also eligible for the Promise program.

“We want to fund every student that walks through the door,” Dr. Stork said. “It would be exciting if we didn’t have enough money.”

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