By John Olivares
Santa Ana College is offering free first-year tuition to high school students graduating from the Santa Ana Unified School District starting fall 2016.
At $46 per unit, the program could save full-time students who enroll in both the fall and spring semesters a total of $1,104. An end date to the program has not been determined and there is no plan to set one, SAC President Erlinda Martinez said.
“Living in Corona, I wasn’t planning on staying in school in Santa Ana. This is definitely an incentive to keep me coming out here,” Christopher Zotea, Godinez Fundamental High School senior, said.
Local high school students often apply to other colleges and universities and don’t get the financial aid they expect.
“This is going to definitely help the middle class if FAFSA wasn’t good elsewhere,” Jimmy Bravo, Godinez Fundamental High School’s higher-education coordinator, said.
Primary funding for the program will come from the SAC Foundation, with additional support from the State of California’s Award for Innovation in Higher Education and SAC’s Centennial Scholarship Campaign.
“I hope that Santiago Canyon College follows in the same footsteps,” Board of Trustees President Claudia Alvarez said. “It’s the ultimate district goal.”
SAC will be the only community college in Orange County to offer free first-year tuition.
“The fact that I don’t have to worry about paying my first year of college is such a huge motivation for me to want to go to school,” Ginell Penaloza, Godinez Fundamental High School senior, said.
California schools that offer similar programs include San Diego Community College, Ventura College and Long Beach City College.
This initiative is part of America’s College Promise launched by the White House and the U.S. Department of Education last year.
“This announcement has changed discussion everywhere. We’ve been building towards this and there is no better place students can land,” SAC Vice President of Student Affairs Carlos Lopez said.
Last fall, UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman, Cal State Fullerton President Mildred Garcia and SAC President Erlinda Martinez continued their commitment to guaranteeing university transfer for students who graduate from SAUSD, enroll at SAC and meet their institution’s academic requirements.
“This is Santa Ana College’s legacy. I feel ecstatic going into retirement this year knowing that the school is doing such great things,” Martinez said.