Kevin G. Walthers: Two words of advice for high school seniors

Dr. Kevin Walthers

When President Biden first sent the Build Back Better recovery plan to Congress, it included a simple yet audacious proposal to provide tuition-free community college nationwide. The price tag? Total of $109 billion, spread over 10 years, in the nearly $2 trillion package.

The proposal is one with a long history of research showing it would provide a significant return on investment. This is confirmed by a new analysis by the Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. Bloomberg News finds that free community college has the potential to increase gross domestic product by $170 billion per year and add more than $66 billion in tax revenue.

Graduates of Allan Hancock College are the perfect example of the economic value of community colleges. A third-party study of Hancock’s economic impact shows that, on average, AHC graduates earn an additional $9,200 per year on completion of a Hancock associate degree. With graduating classes exceeding 1,000 students over the last five years, that is an additional $9.2 million added to the local economy each year — a cumulative impact of more than $50 million in wages.

While we were disappointed when the free community college plan was among the first provisions to be jettisoned last month during the ongoing negotiations in Congress, we are steadfast in our determination to ensure that our students will have access for free tuition through the Hancock Promise.

With the support of our community and local businesses, we are ahead of the curve in offering tuition-free college for our community. The Hancock Promise launched in 2018 as the centerpiece of our commitment to building a college-going culture in our community. The results are astounding: more than 50 percent of local high school students graduating in the spring now enroll at AHC the following fall. With the constant barrage of stories documenting the rise in the price of college, the promise of free tuition resonates with students — and parents — who otherwise might not even consider the opportunities awaiting them at Hancock.

As the federal community college proposal moved forward, many people asked why they should support the Hancock Promise Campaign, a public/private partnership that guarantees the “First Year Free at AHC” for all local high school graduates.

The answer is right in front of us: Relying on a far-away political process is risky at best. Here in northern Santa Barbara County, we value self-sufficiency, and we are proving that we have the capacity to support ourselves.

The Hancock Promise Campaign started just four years ago with the audacious goal of raising $10 million to ensure two years of free tuition for local students. With your support, we are now $5.5 million toward that goal, making it the most effective capital campaign in the college’s history.

The investment we make today will pay off for generations. Those of us over the age of 50 attended public universities that were free or nearly free. As tax revenue receded or budget pressures mounted, every state in the nation shifted the cost of undergraduate education to students. Ironically, the cost of educating an undergraduate student is essentially unchanged over decades (adjusted for inflation).

Imagine a future where every high school student in our region knows that they have two years of free college available to them. Suddenly, more students are thinking about enrolling at Hancock as a first choice, and our amazing faculty and staff are working hard to ensure that these students complete as fast as possible.

And if the day comes when the federal or state government funds two years of tuition for students, the Hancock Promise funds will still be here to help students pay for other costs of college attendance, like books, computers, or other supplies.

Building a college-going culture is critical for the future of northern Santa Barbara County. When we promise that tuition will be free, we see that more students get an education. As we continue to raise private funds for the $10 million Hancock Promise goal, I hope you will join us by making an investment in our community and our young people.

Kevin G. Walthers, Ph.D., is the superintendent/president of Allan Hancock College. Make online gifts to the Hancock Promise Campaign at