Press "Enter" to skip to content

Palomar Promise program sees initial success

Palomar College has raised $1.5 million within four months of their announcement of a program to provide tuition-free education to incoming college freshman.

Palomar rolled out the Palomar Promise Program, a free financial aid and academic support program for graduating high school students within the district, in February. The program will be available to eligible high school graduates of the 11 school districts within the college district.

The program has two components: the umbrella that is the Palomar Promise that will provide one-year of free tuition and $1,000 in textbook assistance and Palomar Promise+ that is specifically geared to San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD) students who meet a 2.5 GPA.

Palomar Promise+ awardees will in turn receive two years of free tuition at Palomar and an additional two years of financial assistance at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM). They will however miss out on the textbook assistance, but will potentially receive more financial help over the four years, Adrian Gonzales, vice president of Student Services, said.

Herbie Smith, executive director of the San Marcos Promise, presented the original idea of the promise to Richard Talmo, executive director of the Palomar College Foundation, in fall 2015.

“It just seemed like a natural fit to provide a scholarship component to students who chose to pursue higher education at the local community college with the goal of transferring or receiving a certificate,” Smith said.

The natural fit however was a result of seeing students from his and SMUSD Pace Program, a 2007 agreement with CSUSM on guaranteeing admission to students who meet college readiness benchmarks and scholarships via the San Marcos Promise, being unable to pay for courses and facing financial difficulty.

Smith’s proposal to Palomar was a cost-effective way for students to achieve a four-year degree.

“It wasn’t a hard sell for us as a foundation to jump on board,” Talmo said. “What became a process… I’m realizing that once you get beyond the money, it’s student services that’s going to bear the burden of ensuring these students have everything they need in order to get through.”

When President Joi Lin Blake entered the college in July 2016 one of her first questions to Gonzales was, “Hey I see you have a promise, that’s exciting. I’m glad you guys are moving in that direction. Can we do the whole district?”

“I started laughing and said, ‘You know how big our district is?’” Gonzales said. “And she said, ‘I know but I think we can do it.’”

Blake’s desire to open the program up to the whole district was that a majority of the students who come to college were not college ready and would not be able to take part in the Palomar Promise+ due to the GPA requirement.

“We want to mitigate the disparities of some of our marginalized communities we were going to need to open it up,” Blake said. “I felt it was important to do that to have the largest social impact in terms of educating North County and so I felt it was important to expand it.”

What initially began as a promise to one school district quickly became a promise to the remaining 10 school districts within the college’s district with a deadline fast approaching to create the infrastructure to support the potential of 1,500 freshman students.

“What was critical to us was not only the financial incentive but really the support network for the students to come in, long-term success, retention and graduation,” Gonzales said.

In order for the program to work the college would need the support of the foundation to secure the funding of an estimated endowment of $15-30 million and for the First-Year Experience program to provide the support needed for the influx of freshman students.

“I think there was good timing and good momentum,” Gonzales said. “The critical point was when the FYE program said yes. If the FYE program said this is beyond their capacity, we can’t, we would have probably scaled a little differently.”

The program is funded through grants and fundraising efforts and one of the key strategies is to challenge each of the communities for their support, Talmo said.

“If the community sees the importance of its students in that first year, then yes its sustainable.”

For more information on the Palomar Promise and Palomar Promise+ visit www2.palomar.edu/pages/palomarpromise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.