$2 million grant allows 500 San Mateo County residents to attend community college for free

A $2 million grant could allow a total of 2,500 San Mateo County students to attend community college for free...

A $2 million grant could allow a total of 2,500 San Mateo County students to attend community college for free in the coming year.

San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa on Monday announced the $2 million county grant to expand the Promise Scholars program, adding another 500 incoming students.

“This is just the first step … what I’d like to see is down the road, every community college student in San Mateo County having the ability to receive – through the Promise Scholars – the ability to have free community college,” Canepa said.

The Promise Scholars Program offers up to three years of scholarship and comprehensive support services for first-time, full-time community college students. It also provides fee waivers, textbook credit and monthly transportation incentives.

Some of the support includes designated counselors who meet with the students monthly to ensure they are on track and answer any questions students may have about classes they need to take and the transfer process.

Mario Guzman, a participant in the program, applied a few years after he arrived in California, fleeing from gang violence in El Salvador.

“Right after high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, or what I needed to do … And it was kind of overwhelming for me, because I knew that I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know if it would be possible for me to attend a four-year institution,” Guzman said.

Through the program, Guzman was able to attend Skyline College and is preparing to graduate in the spring. He has already been accepted to San Francisco State University, and is waiting to hear back from California State University, Long Beach.

Previously, the program was able to fund free education for 2,000 students, which has expanded to 2,500 students because of this county funding, said San Mateo Community College District spokesperson Richard Rojo.

“Our goal is to get as many students into the program as possible,” Rojo said.

State Sen. Josh Becker applauded the expansion of the program Monday, adding that “investments like this are about improving equity and access to critical education and job training opportunities that are not readily available for all students graduating from under-resourced schools.”

Becker has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 659, that will allow community college districts flexibility to waive or reduce student fees, such as enrollment fees, by using existing local funds as approved by community college districts’ respective governing boards.

“Together, my bill and this investment will expand free college for up to a historic 6,000 students at San Mateo Community College District by the 2022-23 school year,” Becker said.

Students are selected to be part of the cohort through an application process. Applicants must be residents of California, but the money from the county will specifically go toward applicants who are San Mateo County residents, Canepa said.

Students must apply to Cañada College, College of San Mateo, or Skyline College, as well as fill out the Free Application For Student Aid or the California Dream Act Application.

The program offers priority admission for a number of different groups, including veterans, undocumented students, formerly incarcerated students, and youth who were formerly part of foster homes.

The program is comparable in many ways to San Francisco’s “Free City” program, which Canepa said he tried to model the program after.

“For us, just as a county … this is about our values,” Canepa said. “This is about making sure that students have upward mobility.”

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