The first group of students to attend San Diego community colleges under a free-tuition program is preparing for graduation.
"San Diego Promise," initiated two years ago as a pilot program, waives tuition fees and pays for the books of first-time, full-time students within the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD).
"A lot of students have to work full-time jobs just to pay and take a full load of classes," said Dana Maristela, one of the first soon-to-be graduates of San Diego Promise. "The fact that I didn't have to really helped out a lot."
About 700 students were enrolled in the program last year, according to SDCCD.
Victor Pham is graduating alongside Maristela this Friday. He said the best thing the promise program was able to give him was time.
Pham's dad is critically ill and his grandma suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Pham spends his time in between full-time classes and part-time work caring for them.
"I work part-time but without the promise program, I would be working full-time because my mom is my main financial provider," Pham said. "Without the promise program, I wouldn’t have that time to dedicate in taking care of them."
The first year of the program was paid for with private funding and donations. Next year, it will have support from a statewide program -- a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in November 2017 will waive tuition costs for first-year community college students for one year, starting this fall.
SDCCD plans to expand their program with the funding provided under Brown's California College Promise program.
San Diego Promise will cover tuition costs for full-time, second-year students who maintain a 2.0 grade point average.
The California community college system estimates 19,000 students would be eligible for the fee waiver, which will cost the state about $31 million annually.