SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The first group of student to attend San Diego Community Colleges for free are set to graduate this May.
About 100 students in the San Diego Promise program will get their associate's degrees next month.
The program began in 2016, with the three schools in the San Diego Community College District offering one year of tuition to first-time, full-time students.
Private donations covered the cost.
In 2017, the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 19, granting a year of paid community college tuition across California. That allowed the San Diego community colleges to expand their Promise Program to cover two years of tuition.
"This is about affordability," said SDCCD spokesman Jack Beresford. "We want them to leave community college, first and foremost with a degree, but also without any debt."
A second bill to help pay for college is working its way through the Legislature this year. Assembly Bill 2 would expand the California College Promise program to two years. If that passes, Beresford said the SDCCD would use the money they raise through donations to help cover other costs of attending college like books, transportation and housing.
In its first year, the San Diego Promise program had just 186 students attending either San Diego City, Mesa or Miramar College. A combination of fundraising and the money from state funding helped the program to expand to 600 students in the 2017-18 school year. This year, nearly 2,100 students have enrolled.
Beresford said they expect around 3,000 students next fall to qualify for the San Diego Promise grants.
"Many of these students work, they have families, they have other commitments," he said. "So providing the funding that allows them to take a full load of classes and graduate in two years is a huge deal."
One student getting her degree this year said the Promise Program helped change the way her family looks at college.
"The conversation's changed," said student Hilda Arreola. "Now, when I talk to my daughters, it's when you go to college, not if. I just raised the bar for them."
Arreola said she wouldn't have been able to attend college if not for the program paying her tuition.
"It's been a relief," she said. "I could focus on my education and not on getting the money for my education. It was really helpful."
Applications are now open for the 2019-20 school year. Information on eligibility requirements and how to apply can be found here.