Editor’s note: West Sac’s offer of community college to every high school graduate is getting attention
It may have gone somewhat unnoticed, what with the daily headlines on police reform and the COVID-19 pandemic.
But what West Sacramento is doing—offering community college admission to every high school graduate in the city—is drawing national attention.
And in the long run, it could make a huge impact in reducing inequality and opening the doors of opportunity for the poor and people of color—one of the broader goals of the Black Lives Matter protests.
Under the initiative announced earlier this month, about 550 students are getting automatic acceptance to Sacramento City College, plus $200 to help pay for books, transportation and other expenses to attend this fall.
“You’ve worked hard to achieve this much, and we want to make sure you know that the community supports you as you move from high school to college,” the acceptance letter says.
“We know that this can be a daunting time in any young adult’s life, so we hope these measures make it a little easier for you to achieve your goal.”
The city is partnering with Los Rios Community College District and the Washington Unified School District on the initiative, which builds on West Sacramento’s College Promise. That program gives high school graduates tuition- and fee-free classes for two years at Sacramento City College. The $400,000 a year cost is funded by the state, Los Rios and the city, which gets its portion from the Measure E quarter-cent sales tax approved by West Sac voters in November 2016. (Fees for 2020-21 are $1,288 a year, while books and supplies are $1,972.)
College Promise is the third part of West Sacramento “Home Run,” a program that also includes preschool, college savings accounts and paid summer internships.
“This groundbreaking effort will make it just as simple to go from high school to college as it is to go from kindergarten to first grade,” Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said in a statement.
Not every student will take advantage of the initiative; some will go to four-year universities and others won’t go to college at all.
Still, College Promise, a national nonprofit, says the initiative “could not come at a more crucial time to help students and families combat the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Cass Sunstein, a prominent scholar who is a professor at Harvard University, calls the initiative “fresh, creative—and cheap.” That’s especially compared to free public college for all, a signature proposal for Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential campaign.
“By itself, automatic admission costs almost nothing. It’s just a letter. But there’s every reason to think it will have a real impact. For many students, it will make all the difference, just because of its automatic quality,” Sunstein wrote for Bloomberg Opinion.
And as Cabaldon says: “Imagine no one in your family has ever gone to college and you open up an envelope with a letter of admission and a scholarship award.”