The timing was perfect for Claudia Osuna.
The 47-year-old obtained her permanent U.S. residency and completed a GED program through San Diego City College’s Educational Cultural Complex.
She now had the opportunity to go to college — a first in her family — but uncertainty remained.
“I was scared,” said Osuna. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it.”
Osuna is a full-time honors student in her second year at San Diego City College. She is working toward a criminal justice degree thanks to the San Diego Promise Program, the only two-year, tuition-free program of its kind in San Diego County.
San Diego Community College District has established itself as the leader among community college districts in the area when it comes to offering student assistance. Other community colleges in the region offer one year of tuition-free education, but only SDCCD’s San Diego Promise offers its students two years.
“I’m very grateful (for the Promise program),” said Osuna, who works full-time and has four children and four grandchildren. “I don’t know if I could have attended college without it. I study a lot, I work a lot, whatever it takes. I’m very motivated. I just want to complete my dreams.”
SDCCD currently has 2,100 students enrolled in its Promise Program, including 1,800 new incoming freshmen and 300 more, who like Osuna, are sophomores.
San Diego Promise kicked off in 2016 as a pilot program for 186 full-time students. The program was expanded to 661 students for the Fall 2017 semester with 543 new incoming freshmen and 118 returning sophomores receiving their second year of free tuition and book assistance.
In 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 19 into law, which granted one year of tuition-free education to all new full-time California students and allowing SDCCD to increase its own program.
“San Diego Promise combines the funding from two sources,” said Jack Beresford, the SDCCD director of communications and public relations. “A, the state through AB 19 and B, through our continuing fundraising efforts. That way we are able to make a commitment to students to fund not just the first year, but two years of education.”
At $46 per unit, a full-time student taking 12 units a semester is looking at $552 in tuition before the start of every semester, not including the costs of textbooks. The San Diego Promise is known as a “last dollar” program that bridges the gap in a student’s financial aid.
“In order to participate, (students) must apply for FAFSA and for financial aid,” Beresford said. “We first find out what kind of federal and state aid they’re eligible for, and whatever needs they have after that as far as their tuition, the district picks up that cost.”
Students who have their entire tuition covered by outside financial aid are then given book grants by the program.
Registration for the San Diego Promise program is once a year prior to the start of every fall semester. According to Osuna, the process to sign up is not that difficult because there are counselors, peer advisors and other resources to help student every step of the way.