2017-02-17 / Schools

Program promises free college tuition for OUHSD grads

Officials seek to removefinancial barriers for postsecondary students
By Hector Gonzalez

GREAT DEAL— Star ting this spring, students who graduate from the Oxnard Union High School District will have the opportunity to attend Oxnard College tuition-free for their first year. The program is called the Oxnard Promise. GREAT DEAL— Star ting this spring, students who graduate from the Oxnard Union High School District will have the opportunity to attend Oxnard College tuition-free for their first year. The program is called the Oxnard Promise. Starting this spring, every student who graduates from Oxnard Union High School District will get a chance to attend Oxnard College tuition-free for their first year.

The new program, called the Oxnard Promise, could change the landscape of postsecondary education in the county by removing financial obstacles blocking the path to college for high school graduates, Oxnard College President Cynthia Azari said.

“This is a huge deal,” Azari said Tuesday. “What it means is that every student who graduates from the Oxnard Union district as well as from Santa Clara High School (in Oxnard) will be able to come to Oxnard College with tuition paid for up to two semesters.”

In their first semester at Oxnard College, freshmen enrolled in the program will pay only the $27 per semester enrollment fee and the cost of their books, which could be covered by private grants from the college’s foundation or by financial aid, the president said.

To stay eligible for free tuition in their second semester, students must maintain a minimum 2.4 GPA,oraCaverage.

“That’s not too hard, is it?” Azari asked.

She presented the program at Oxnard Union High School District’s school board meeting Wednesday night.

“The Oxnard Promise is an incredible opportunity for the students of OUHSD and is perfectly aligned to our vision of every student graduating with multiple postsecondary options, including an acceptance to a two- or four-year college,” OUHSD Superintendent Penelope DeLeon told the Acorn on Tuesday. “OUHSD is so proud to partner with Oxnard College on this promise.”

A district staff report said the program is aimed at creating “a culture of college expectation starting as early as pre-kindergarten.” OUHSD officials also hope the program will increase graduation rates.

“I really want to build a college going culture, to make students see the value in a college education,” Azari said. “Also, for students who come to the college part time because they have to work, this will allow those students to go to college full time.”

High school students set to graduate at the end of this spring semester are encouraged to submit an online application to Oxnard College as soon as the form is available. The application for the fall semester will be available online beginning March 1.

“We want them to register early, the earlier the better. And we encourage them to take a full load” of classes, Azari said.

Participating students will receive priority registration, as well as tutoring help, career advice and college counseling. They’ll also be able to sign up for support programs to help them stay on track academically.

Students applying for the Oxnard Promise will need to file for federal financial aid, complete a college orientation and skills assessment, and work with a college counselor to develop an education plan.

Oxnard College Foundation is picking up most of the costs of the program, Azari said, but financial aid will kick in to cover costs for eligible students.

“We want to be able to use any federal money available before having to turn to local funding,” she said.

In fall 2015, the number of students coming from OUHSD made up 75 percent of Oxnard College’s enrollment. Most of the college’s student population comes from Channel Islands and Hueneme high school, according to a February 2016 “data portrait” released by college officials.

“This is a trend that has been true for the past five years and, as of fall 2014, 43 percent of Channel Islands graduates attended Oxnard College, as did 45 percent of Hueneme graduates,” the report said.

Azari said the college has enough classroom space to accommodate a large influx of students signing up for the free tuition program.

“We have room,” she said.

For now, Azari said, Oxnard College officials are focused on getting the word out to area students about the program.

“We are sending our outreach people to all the high schools,” she said.

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