“Palomar made it possible for me to take my first year of college tuition-free and close to home.”

FALLBROOK — As one of the first students to set foot inside a classroom at Palomar College’s new Fallbrook Education Center, Melissa Barrera graduated high school with perfect timing.

In the spring of 2018, when Barrera was finishing her senior year at Fallbrook High, the college was putting the final touches on an education center that would bring a range of in-demand classes and programs within reach.

In Barrera’s case, working a part-time job in downtown Fallbrook and without reliable transportation, she said it would have been a stretch to attend classes at the main campus in San Marcos. But with the opening of a Fallbrook Education Center, the pieces came together.

“It’s closer to home, and financially, I save gas money by not having to drive back and forth,” she said. “It’s really convenient to have this campus here.”

As a recent high school graduate, Barrera was also able to take advantage of the Palomar Promise, joining the second year of college freshmen to receive free tuition, textbook assistance, and individualized academic and career counseling.

“With the Promise, you start out ahead—I didn’t know about graduation or transfer requirements before I took advantage of the Promise,” Barrera said. “Books are expensive, and I don’t think I would have been able to afford buying books these past two semesters, if it wasn’t for the Promise.”

The youngest of four siblings, Barrera is a first-generation college student and only the second person in her family to pursue higher education. She grew up in Fallbrook and plans to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a degree in Sociology. Ultimately, she said, she hopes to work at an elementary school—perhaps as a teacher.

“I believe in education,” she said. “I love learning, and the fact that there is an opportunity now in Fallbrook for students to take college classes, I think that’s great. You can never go wrong with education. Having a college campus here is a great step for Fallbrook—and for Palomar, as well.”

As she enters her second year at Palomar, Barrera stands as an example of the kind of opportunities the college is creating for its students, said Superintendent/President Dr. Joi Lin Blake.

“Melissa’s story represents hundreds of first-year students who might not have been able to pursue their higher education dreams if not for the Palomar Promise and our new education centers in Fallbrook and Rancho Bernardo,” said Dr. Blake.

For her part, Barrera said she looks forward to continuing her education and perhaps one day returning to Fallbrook with a degree and the ability to help local children travel a similar path.

“Thanks to Palomar,” she said, “I feel like I have a good foundation.”