Cuesta College now offers free year of classes to local students

A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.
A bird's-eye view of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo.

San Luis Obispo County students planning to enroll at Cuesta College can now attend their first year for free.

The Cuesta College Promise scholarship, which was made possible by an $8.5 million endowment, launched this fall. Originally, the scholarship program was created to pay for classes and all fees, including student memberships, material costs and health fees for the first semester, equal to about $700.

That program is now being extended to cover the costs of the fall and spring semesters.

All local high school graduates of both public and private schools are eligible for the scholarship regardless of financial status or income.

This fall, 646 incoming students from local high schools enrolled in the Promise Scholarship. Those students will now attend the spring semester for free.

President Gil Stork announced the change Wednesday, citing positive earnings on the endowment’s investment, which will provide up to $300,000 annually in scholarship funding.

Isaac Castillo, 18, was awarded the scholarship in the fall and will now take classes for free in the spring.

"This Promise is definitely a blessing," Castillo said. "The economy is still struggling, families are still trying to provide, and at times college is quite a price tag."

The Arroyo Grande High School graduate is majoring in English and photography. He is the first in his family to go directly to college after graduating from high school — an idea he says he wants to impart to his younger brother.

The scholarship, he said, will help with that.

"A whole year — that is when possibilities are endless, really," Castillo said.

The endowment, the largest donation ever received by the community college, was bequeathed to Cuesta College in 2013 by longtime Morro Bay couple Charles and Leeta Dovica in their family trust.

“For generations to come, thousands of our San Luis Obispo County students will have the opportunity to attend a full year of college for free all because of a single donation,” said Shannon Hill, executive director of the Cuesta College Foundation in a news release. “What an incredible gift for the children and grandchildren of our local families.”

The college is also using the scholarship as a way to boost enrollment.

Each year about 700 local high school graduates attend Cuesta College. That number grew by about 85 local high school students this fall, which college administrators attribute to the scholarship.

Stork said that much of that increase came from the South County.

“We saw a disproportionate increase in the number of graduates coming from Arroyo Grande and Nipomo who would have otherwise gone to Allan Hancock College or not gone at all,” he said.

If students require additional financial aid and grants after their first year, they must apply for those.