Passport to the future

As other community colleges secure funding for tuition free programs, Delta College sees end to a 2006 promise for a group of area fifth graders

Megan Maxey works in her cubicle at The Daily Titan and pretends to work. PHOTO BY BRANDON ROSS

While political leaders in New York and San Francisco grab national attention for plans to launch tuition-free community college programs, similar efforts are being made on a smaller scale by individual schools in California.

In Fall 2017, Palomar College in San Marcos will begin its “Palomar Promise” program. Students graduating with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher from any of the 21 high schools in the North San Diego County area will have the opportunity to apply to the program, which offers two years of free tuition to Palomar, as well as $500 per semester for textbooks.

“The Palomar Promise is the right thing to do. It’s right for our kids, our business, and for our community. Having affordable pathways to college and career in the comfort of your city makes San Marcos a special place to live,” said Herbie Smith, executive Director of The San Marcos Promise Foundation in a press release, which The Collegian was referred to when it contacted Palomar.

With roughly 7,400 eligible high school students slated to graduate this spring, Palomar College’s Admissions & Records department estimates approximately 1,500 of those students will enroll in classes in the fall.

Such a program will no doubt benefit those who might otherwise struggle to pay the $46 per unit price to attend Palomar.

And while North San Diego County is known for its affluence, the opportunity to reduce student debt is a benefit regardless of economic demographics.

Delta College, located in a more economically challenged area, has been at the forefront of the tuition-free movement with its “Passport to College” program.

The program promised free tuition to fifth graders in the Delta College service area in 2006. Passport students began their Delta educations in 2014.

Megan Maxey, now a junior at California State University, Fullerton, was a Passport to College student.

“I’m super grateful [for Passport to College] because now I can be at this four-year college without having so much debt,” said Maxey, who was the 2016 commencement speaker. “I think the Passport program probably brought in students who would not have thought about going to college.”

At least one student concurred.

“I didn’t really think about it until I almost graduated [from high school], then I got determined to make it work,” said Delta student Paul Pablo. “I want to go to law school someday, but I don’t know if I would’ve been able to afford any kind of college if I didn’t get involved in [Passport to College].”

Like Palomar College’s “Palomar Promise” program, Delta’s “Passport to College” program was offered to students within a designated local area. More than 12,000 students from 146 elementary schools were presented the opportunity to participate in the program, which offered up to two years of free tuition at Delta College for students who participated in Passport activities on their way to graduating from high school.

Of those 12,000 fifth graders who were promised free tuition, more than 1,000 stayed the course and enrolled at Delta eight years later. Some students may have come to Delta regardless, but others, especially those not living in Stockton, were attracted by the allure of a tuition-free education.

“If I didn’t have those free years I definitely would’ve gone to Consumnes [River] College,” said Maxey, who grew up in Galt. She said the commute was worth it. “Because of Passport I found Delta and it worked out.”

While at Delta, Maxey joined the staff of The Collegian, a move she says prepared her for the next step of her life.

Last year, she became the first recipient of the new Associate of Arts Degree for Transfer in Journalism.

After transferring to Cal State Fullerton, she stepped into the role of News Editor of the school’s newspaper, The Daily Titan.

With one year left at CSUF, she is focused on a career in journalism upon completing her degree.

Maxey is perhaps the highest profile success story of Passport to College, a program that concluded this semester.

When asked for her thoughts regarding the end of Passport, Maxey had a pragmatic response.

“I know that it costs the college a lot of money,” she said. “I think the message that it gave was that community college is a viable option for anyone, and if they can do that in another way [as opposed to renewing the Passport program] that would be worthwhile. The message they sent is a message they should continue.”