Promise Article

Sunday, March 5, 2006, The Ventura County Star

Ventura Promise grants open door to junior college

By John Scheibe

For the thousands of newly minted high school graduates living within Ventura College’s service area, 2006 could be remembered as the year of increased college opportunity.

Starting this summer, recent high school graduates whose adjusted gross family income falls below $50,000 per year will have their enrollment fees paid for during their first year at Ventura College.

To qualify for the program, dubbed The Ventura Promise, students must have just graduated high school and be willing to enroll at Ventura College in either the summer or fall. Those who have earned a high school equivalency diploma, GED, during the 2005-06 school year also qualify. The college’s service area includes Ventura, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Ojai, Piru and Camarillo.

Participating students must develop an education plan for college with a counselor and take an assessment exam. They must also work with the college’s financial aid office to determine if they qualify for other aid.

“As of this summer, any student who wants to go to college should be able to do so,” Ventura College President Robin Calote said.

Calote said the program is called The Ventura Promise because it represents a pledge by adults in the community to help young people obtain college educations. She said the program is especially important because of the big increase in community college fees over the past few years Students now pay $26 per unit. Students taking a full 15-unit load would receive a $390 reimbursement each semester Students, however, are under no obligation to take a full load of courses to qualify.

“Their only obligation is that they be enrolled at the college during the school year immediately following their high school graduation,” Calote said.

The Ventura program also does not pay for textbooks.

KalamazooPromise model
The program is modeled after one in Michigan known as the Kalamazoo Promise.

Those who graduate from Kalamazoo’s three public high schools have their college education paid for, thanks to the generosity of a nameless benefactor. The Kalamazoo program has received national attention because of its potential to help an area crippled by job losses. Students must go to a public college or university in Michigan.

In the case of Ventura, the Ventura College Foundation is the benefactor, for now.

The foundation’s board of directors recently agreed to underwrite the Ventura program, providing $500,000 toward the program’s first two years.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is the biggest single commitment of unrestricted funds ever made by the foundation,” said Paul Iannaccone, the foundation’s executive director. Iannaccone estimates that of
the 2,700 or so students who graduate from high schools Within the college’s service area each year, 500 would qualify for the program.

“What’s not known is how many of these 500 students will participate in the program,” he said.

Brianna Aguilera, a 17- year-old senior at Buena High School, was considering attend ing Moorpark College this fall. But Aguilera is now leaning toward Ventura College, in part because of the new program.

Aguilera called the program “a good idea.”

“It’s sad that there are people who don’t go to college because they can’t afford to,” Aguilera said. “This program should help.”

Statewide attention
Free community college tuition is gaining statewide attention. Steve Westly, the California controller and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has proposed creating a fund to guarantee a free community college education to students who obtain a two-year degree. Community colleges, Westly said, are key to California’s economic prosperity since they train many of its workers. He estimates his proposal would cost $100 million to $200 million, depending on the number of students enrolled.

For now, Ventura’s program will only cover a student’s first year at the college, although it could someday pay for both years at the two-year school.

“A lot will depend on how much, can be raised for the program,” Iannaccone said.
Organizers have started a fundraising campaign and hope to collect millions of dollars.

“The ultimate goal is to create an endowment large enough so that the earnings will support the program,” he said.

As part of the campaign, organizers are asking local companies for donations.

“A program like this benefits everyone, including employers,” Calote said.

Since its start in 1985, the Ventura College Foundation has contributed more than $5 million to Ventura College and its students. The foundation provides more than $450,000 a year in scholarships.