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LAUSD high school seniors offered free college tuition

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified School District high school seniors will be eligible for one year of free community college tuition starting in 2017, under a program launched by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles Community College District Sept. 14.

The initiative was inspired by a nationwide call from America’s College Promise — a campaign spearheaded by President Barack Obama and chaired by Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden — to education officials to make community college free.

The launch  of the Los Angeles initiative, dubbed L.A. College Promise, “is tremendous reason to celebrate,” said Biden, an educator whose doctoral dissertation in 2007 was “Student Retention at the Community College: Meeting Students’ Needs.”

“We are making a declaration — an assurance that you can attend one year of school tuition-free,” she said. “An assurance that you can concentrate on your studies, and get ahead.”

The Los Angeles College Promise will provide one year of free enrollment to all full-time (12 units) qualifying students graduating from LAUSD and charter high schools starting with seniors graduating in 2017. Included in this program are priority enrollment, placement in math and English courses required to succeed in college and career support and counseling.

The program’s goal is to increase the number of community college graduates, university transfers, and workforce-ready students.

Eligible applicants for free tuition must be part of the 2017 class of graduates at LAUSD schools and qualify for in-state resident tuition, and will need to complete their free application for federal student aid or California Dream Act applications.

Surrounded by cheering Los Angeles Unified School District high school students and LACCD students, Garcetti announced the new program to an enthusiastic crowd of educators, business and civic leaders at Los Angeles City College, one of LACCD’s nine colleges.

“Higher education should be within reach for every student in Los Angeles. The L.A. College Promise is a path for every Angeleno to earn a high school diploma and pursue the skills and education they need to realize their dreams and potential,” Garcetti said.

“When the first Promise students step onto campus next fall, they’ll be doing more than putting themselves on a launching pad to prosperity — they’ll embody a commitment that is fundamental to who we are as a people, and what we want for our future.”

Garcetti helped raise about $1.75 million for the initiative through his Mayor’s Fund, enough to pay for at least half of the costs of the program’s first year.

Garcetti first hinted at his involvement in the local College Promise program during his State of the City speech earlier this year. His Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles has raised money for the program from the Karsh Family Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Union Bank Foundation and the Baxter Family Foundation.

“Community colleges don’t just create pathways of success, they do so for some of our most underserved populations, which amplifies their positive impact,” said LACCD Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez. “So many LAUSD students feel college is simply not an option. But by making community colleges tuition-free for the first year, the Los Angeles College Promise will ensure students have a real opportunity for higher education at a time when it’s more essential than ever to have a college degree or certification to be competitive in today’s job market.”

The nine colleges of the LACCD comprise the nation’s largest community college district, with an annual enrollment of nearly a quarter million. Eighty percent of LACCD students are from underserved populations, more than half are older than 25 years of age and more than a quarter are 35 or older.

“It’s easy for new high school graduates to get caught up in living paycheck to paycheck right after graduation, rather than pursuing an education that may lead to middle class or better career opportunities,” said Bryant Woodert, who grew up in Watts and is a student at Los Angeles City College.

“The L.A. College Promise would give more LAUSD students an immediate pathway to college, setting them on the right track to the middle class or better before they get sidetracked.”

Scott Svonkin, the president of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, said the one year of free tuition now being offered to 2017 graduates “is just the beginning,” and that the eventual goal is to provide free community college to all.

“We are engaging the business community — that is in need of a qualified and trained work force — and philanthropists that understand the value of community colleges to work with us and support free community college educations for generations to come,” Svonkin said.

Other districts and colleges have already implemented their own programs, but the Los Angeles program will be the largest and would affect the most low-income students who are unable to afford college otherwise, according to district spokeswoman Maria Iacobo.

“L.A. Unified is honored to join with the Los Angeles Community College District and the city of Los Angeles in educating the next generation of skilled workers, creative thinkers and effective problem-solvers,” LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King said.

“Of the 30,000 students who graduated in 2015, more than 60 percent pursued a post-secondary education immediately after high school, including 37 percent who enrolled in community college,” King said. “With this new agreement in place, the class of 2017 will be empowered to enroll in a community college that offers the courses, the certificate and the transfer opportunities for them to embark on a career or pursue a university degree.”