Cuesta’s hope to offer second-year tuition for free is smart goal

Cougie the Cougar poses with students before the May 2016 Cuesta College graduation.
Cougie the Cougar poses with students before the May 2016 Cuesta College graduation. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

In this era of ever-rising college tuition — and the growing student loan debt that often goes along with it — community colleges remain an educational bargain.

Now, there’s more good news: Some community colleges are becoming even more affordable. There’s a growing national movement to provide tuition-free education at community colleges, and we’re proud that Cuesta College is part of it.

Through the Cuesta Promise program for the past few years, high school graduates from San Luis Obispo County have been able to attend their first year tuition-free. For full-time students, that’s a savings of $1,400. (Students pay for their books, transportation and living expenses.)

Since the program was introduced in 2013, the number of students taking advantage of it has been steadily growing, from 643 the first year to 728 this year.

Now, Cuesta wants to expand the program by offering local high school graduates a second year of tuition-free schooling.

As announced last weekend in a Tribune Viewpoint by college President Gil Stork and honored alumnus Bill Swanson, the Cuesta College Foundation is seeking to raise $10 million to make that happen. Donations would be added to the existing $8 million Cuesta Promise endowment fund — a gift from the Charles and Leeta Dovica Family Trust.

The goal of $10 million is challenging, yet we can think of few programs that would have more far-reaching benefits.

For generations of local residents, Cuesta has been a stepping stone to a four-year university. It’s been a training ground for future welders, EMTs, paralegals, child care professionals and nurses.

Cuesta also has been an option for students who aren’t quite sure of their next step. It allows them to sample a range of courses without investing thousands of dollars in college tuition — a benefit both for students and their families.

A two-year Promise program could make these opportunities available to even more students. It also could boost enrollment at Cuesta by attracting South County students who might be less inclined to attend Hancock College in Santa Maria if they can get free tuition at Cuesta.

But the Cuesta Promise isn’t just about dollars and cents. It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge the worth and accomplishments all high school graduates, regardless of their grade point averages, test scores and extracurricular activities.

The Cuesta Promise sends a powerful message to each and every new high school graduate of San Luis Obispo County: You — and your future — matter to us.

We urge all county residents — especially Cuesta alumni — to consider an investment in our collective future by supporting the Cuesta Promise endowment fund.

How to donate

Donate online at bit.ly/givetocuesta or mail donations to Cuesta College Foundation, P.O. Box 8106, San Luis Obispo, CA 93403. Indicate the donation is intended for Cuesta Promise. For more information, contact the Foundation at 805-546-3279.