Free Community College Initiative
The San Mateo County Community College District (SMCCCD) Board of Trustees adopted an annual budget for FY2022 that invests $6.75 million to make college more affordable and accessible for students through a Free Community College strategic initiative. This initiative grows the District’s dual enrollment programs with high school and unified school districts in the county, increases the number of students in the District’s Promise Scholars Program, and expands the use of open educational resources (OER) and zero textbook cost (ZTC) degree options.
The three components that make up the Free Community College initiative provide distinct areas of focus and support:
- The dual enrollment partnerships allow high school students to take and get credit for college courses while still at their high school. Participation in dual enrollment is free for students taking up to 15 credits per semester.
- The Promise Scholars Program includes the Promise scholarship, a dedicated counselor delivering personalized academic and sociocultural support, and performance-centered interventions. Participants also receive a monthly incentive (either transportation support or meal plan support), a bookstore voucher for books and course materials, and access to loaner laptops.
- The OER and ZTC initiatives eliminates the costs of textbooks and course materials for students, which in many cases cost more than the actual course itself.
To expand the Promise Scholars Program, the District received a $2 million grant – over two years – from the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to provide direct aid and support for students. The SMCCCD has also entered into agreements with five high school and unified school districts in San Mateo County to offer dual enrollment courses.
Due to the high cost of living in San Mateo County and due to housing costs being a barrier to student access and completion at the District’s colleges, the District engaged The Scion Group, LLC in spring 2020 to assess student demand and financial feasibility for student housing across the District. The study was spurred by the recognition that many students struggle to find safe, affordable housing close to the District’s campuses. The study found that:
- Demand exists at each SMCCCD campus;
- Students expressed significant interest in housing offered by the District;
- Students reported it is difficult to find housing close to the District’s campuses;
- Part-time students expressed interest in enrolling full-time if housing were available; and
- Nearly all students believed that housing is important for recruiting and retaining future students.
The data from this study has informed the District’s work in exploring student housing solutions. In October 2021, the District applied for a state grant to fund a 500-bed student housing development; that process is ongoing, as is the work of the District to identify and implement housing solutions for students.
San Mateo County Promise
Public education systems – from grade school through universities – commonly function independent of one another. That disconnect unintentionally limits a student’s access to a more comprehensive, unified learning experience at a time when clear pathways for access to education are needed. This is not to suggest that each segment of education should set aside its autonomy or ignore its unique core mission. Rather, it is important to have a well-connected collaboration among the various academic entities, as well with nonprofit and governmental organizations, to generate a natural flow of progressive access and scholarship throughout the students’ learning experience. This would result in a seamless pathway from TK through college that would provide educational and career opportunities for all students in San Mateo County, particularly those in under-represented, under-served and marginalized communities.
The District has engaged in a preliminary conversation with the San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE), First Five San Mateo, San Mateo County, San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA), San Francisco State University (SFSU) and other community leaders to outline what a path forward might look like in developing a county-wide Promise initiative. There is strong interest from these parties to initiate this work and to engage community leaders, K-12 districts, businesses, government agencies, foundations and other stakeholders in framing and implementing a program that develops a pathway for all San Mateo County students to go to college and be prepared for a career.