Saddleback College for free?

Saddleback College’s radiant Promise Program banner. Saddleback College/Courtesy

Students could get up to two years of college for free with the Promise Program at Saddleback College if they meet the requirements. Saddleback promises to pay for up to two years of schooling if enrolled in the Promise Program.

The requirements are simple. Applicants must be a first time college student residing in California. Applicants must register for Saddleback College courses and identify Saddleback as “College of Record.”

Students must apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid by Apr. 1 and have all the financial aid documents turned in by Jun. 1. From there, students must enroll in 12 units or more each semester with math and English scheduled the first semester.

As an added bonus, the registration fee, health fee and an Associated Student Body stamp are included which supports student clubs, scholarships and campus activities. Plus students also receive financial help with books and other bonuses. Not all community colleges have this program.

“I had no idea this existed,” said Ellese Sumner, former Saddleback College student. “I wish I would have taken advantage of it when I had the chance.”

The Promise Program is one of the newer programs at Saddleback College and started in the fall of 2018. There have been three cohorts that have been accepted into the program and the number of students in each cohort has continued to rise the last three years.

“Cohort one, students who started in fall of 2018 was about 275 students,” said Erlynne Ballo, a representative for the Promise Program. “Cohort two, fall of 2019 is about 425 and cohort three the newest group that started just this fall of 2020 is 1220 students.”

Saddleback reaches out to local high schools to spread awareness of this program. The admissions department identifies students that are eligible for the Promise Program based on the applications they receive.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic happening, it is unknown if it will negatively affect the amount of students applying to college for the first time. The application to Saddleback College for high school seniors opened on Oct. 1 and all documents must be submitted by June 1.

“We don’t know just yet how COVID will affect our cohort of students entering the Promise Program in fall of 2021,” Ballo said. “We do not have a set number that we are aiming to admit. Our cohort size will be determined by how many eligible students apply to the college and also how much funding we end up receiving from the state.”

Assembly Bill 19 is a California law that gives community colleges the funds to start their promise programs. Gov. Gavin Newsom passed the bill in 2017.

“The most common reason students haven’t been accepted to the program has been for not completing financial aid applications or additional document requirements,” Ballo said.

Students applying for the Promise Program must submit their financial aid documents on time to be considered.

“The pandemic keeps me from meeting everyone in person, but my students are great and we still get together through Zoom one on one and in groups,” Ballo said. “It’s helped me to still feel like I work at a college in these very virtual times.”

By Erin Sundberg/Lariat Editor at large in Tuscaloosa, Alabama