Hancock College unveiled its newest program, Hancock Promise, on Friday guaranteeing free tuition and fees for one year to future students who graduate from local high schools and immediately enroll.  

Speaking to a small crowd, Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers detailed the program, which will begin in fall 2018 and is designed to remove a financial barrier for roughly 1,300 area graduates.

In addition to the estimated $1,200 in financial assistance, Hancock Promise offers students priority registration, personalized counseling, free tutoring and additional academic support.

All students within the Allan Hancock College Joint Community College District are eligible as long as they apply for financial aid, take a minimum of 12 units per semester, maintain a 2.0 GPA and, if required by their major, complete one math and science class. 

"About three years ago, I was standing at a school in Guadalupe, talking to parents about getting their kids to college," Walthers said. "They were fascinated by the idea of going to college and I said to them, 'If you can get your kid out of high school, we'll get them in to college.' We are dedicated to changing the odds for our community [and] the Promise ensures higher education is as accessible and affordable for our community as possible."

Described as part of the college's four-step outreach campaign, Hancock Promise works in tandem with additional programs -- Bulldog Bound, an early outreach program for students in fifth through eighth grades, and Path to Promise, a program structured to reinforce a "college-going culture" and deepen student connections to Hancock. It also complements the Extended Promise, which provides support to second-year students as they prepare to graduate or transfer to a four-year university.

"We don't want them to just come to college, we want them to complete it," Walthers said of the outreach plan. "If you think about it, [the program] is nine years of taking care of our community. We haven't done anything to change the odds as big as this. This is a game changer."

Ed Cora, superintendent of the Guadalupe Union School District, recalled inviting Walthers to speak to parents three years ago. Although Cora and many parents were interested but skeptical of the free tuition proposal, he took time to thank Walthers and Hancock College for implementing the plan.

"I always told kids, 'I don't care who [you] are, where [you] come from, or how much or little their parents make -- none of that matters,'" Cora recalled. "If they want to go [to college], they'll go. With this Promise program through Hancock College it's true -- every child had the ability, but now they have the opportunity."

While current students will miss out on the perks of the program, second-year biology student Jesus Negrete spoke highly of it.

"It's a great promise because it's really going to help out my parents," he said. "They don't come from a lot of money; they can't pay for everything."

Prior to starting at Hancock, Negrete, one of seven children, took a two-year gap to work and assist his family. Once enrolled, he made the two-hour round trip from Cuyama to attend class while working 60 hours per week.

"I missed out on a lot," he said. "The clubs, building friendships, being able to form study groups. I was never part of that. I always had to do everything on my own. That's what happens when you work a lot."

As Negrete prepares to transfer, he said the program will make a tangible difference for many future students, like his younger sister, by helping them finance an education without making too many sacrifices.

"I wish [my parents] could buy my sister a laptop or some books, but sometimes we just don't have the money to purchase them," he said. "I had to take two years off [but] my sister plans to go college right out of high school. [The Promise] means that she doesn't have to go through that; she doesn't have to take two years off and can graduate earlier. That's such a great thing."

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.