Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New scholarship to offer free year of community college to East County high school graduates

Can college really be free?

            It can for East County high school students under a new scholarship program announced today in which all qualifying graduates of Grossmont Union High School District schools will be offered a free year of classes at Grossmont or Cuyamaca College.

            The scholarships, known as the Higher Edge, will first be offered to Class of 2019 graduates within the Grossmont Union High School District.

            In addition to the scholarships, high school students will be offered support services and opportunities to explore careers to help them discover a field that excites them and obtain the education they need to meet their goals.

             The Higher Edge scholarship program is the first in San Diego County to offer high school students a year of free community college classes. It was created through the East County Education Alliance, a partnership between the East County high school district and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District.

            “The Higher Edge scholarship will transform East County and the lives of thousands of students,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. “With this scholarship and support, students will come to college prepared and confident they have the resources they need to be successful.”           

            Students who qualify for the scholarship will be able to take up to 30 units of college coursework without paying a fee, normally $46 a credit unit. They will also receive a free laptop, and free tutoring, counseling, support services, and student success workshops.

            A college degree has become increasing important both for the East County workforce needs and for students. Studies have found that by 2020, about two-thirds of all jobs will require at least an associate degree or career training. And community college graduates earn on average $560,000 more in their lifetimes than someone with a high school diploma.

            “This is an incredible opportunity for our high school graduates,” said Ralf Swenson, superintendent of the Grossmont Union High School District, which has about 22,000 students. “Every graduate can now have college and career training within their grasp, no matter their economic background.”

            To qualify for the scholarship, students must have lived in the high school district for at least two years, have at least a 2.0 grade point average, and obtain their diploma from a Grossmont Union high school. They are also required to fill out a federal financial aid form, begin college within a year after they graduate from high school, and take at least six credit hours of college classes per semester.

            To help the new graduates be successful, they also must undergo an orientation and assessment and develop a plan for their college education. Scholarship recipients will also be expected to complete a summer program before starting at Grossmont or Cuyamaca that will better prepare them for college.

            Although scholarships will not be available to current sophomores, juniors and seniors in the Grossmont Union High School District, they will be eligible for free tutoring, counseling, support services and priority registration through the Leading Edge scholarship.

            The scholarship program will cost about $500,000 a year, and much of the money for the first year has already been raised. John Valencia, CEO of the college district’s foundation, said he is confident money can be raised through a combination of individual, corporate and employee donations to create an endowment so the scholarship will continue in perpetuity.

            “I know the East County community will see the value of this scholarship and want to help fund it,” Valencia said. “We’re excited to launch this innovative program.”

            To donate, go to

            The East County Education Alliance was formed in October 2014 as a collaboration between the East County college and high school districts to provide high school students with a smoother path to college and a career. The initial summit at Cuyamaca College drew more than 150 educators and community members.

            Since the initial meeting, Alliance members have been working on issues such as

·         aligning the lessons that high school students are taught so that it better matches the knowledge and skills they are expected to have in college

·         increasing the programs that allow high school students to take college classes,

·         providing communications to high school students, parents and counselors about how to best prepare for college or a career.

            For more information about the Alliance, go to