Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell Part of Push to Take College Promise Statewide

The Long Beach College Promise has received national accolades for its innovation in providing not only free access to Long Beach City College, but accelerated learning from elementary on up, as well as a pipeline for qualifying transfer students to continue their education at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB).

Now, state lawmakers are pushing to make the College Promise not just a Long Beach phenomenon, but a statewide policy that ensures access to post-secondary education by removing some of the economic barriers that exist for some students.

Long Beach Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell announced yesterday that he secured $15 million in the proposed 2016-2017 California state budget to fund grants that incentivize partnerships between local school districts and their surrounding higher education institutions. If implemented, the money could help set up similar programs across the state, like the collaborative effort between the Long Beach Unified School District, LBCC and CSULB.


“The Long Beach College Promise has been lauded as a model program and is proof that when schools and college campuses work together, higher education enrollment increases and graduation rates improve,” said O’Donnell, who serves as the chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “The California College Promise will ensure districts across the state have the resources to create similar pathways to higher education.”

A separate bill (AB 2681) introduced by O’Donnell earlier this year, could authorize governing boards of community college districts into College and Career Pathways (CCAP) agreements with local school districts to try and create seamless avenues from high school to community college for either career or transfer preparation. It would also repeal existing laws that require, among other things, parental consent for high school students to enroll in community college courses and information and facilities sharing among the institutions.

The grants awarded under the program would be capped at $25,000 per CCAP partnership and would be authorized until January 2022. The grants would be subject to annual allocations from the state budget. The money secured by O’Donnell could be filtered through a bill like AB 2681 if it were to pass through both houses.

O’Donnell is not alone in his efforts for a statewide College Promise.

In January, Riverside Assemblyman Jose Medina who is chair of the assembly’s higher education committee, introduced Assembly Bill 1721 which sought to establish a “California College Promise” by expanding the Cal Grant Program for community college students and increasing the Board of Governor’s (BOG) Fee Waiver program which allows for enrollment fees to be waived. Currently, the fee waiver program allows nearly 70 percent of full-time students in the state’s community colleges to attend tuition free.

“Effectively moving the needle on community college enrollment and completion requires more than free tuition,” Medina said in a release earlier this year. “Books, transportation and housing costs can make up more than 90 percent of the total cost of attending a community college. AB 1721 will expand access to the Cal Grant program to cover non-tuition costs for community college students.”


Medina’s proposed bill was inspired by President Obama’s unveiling of the America’s College Promise (ACP) proposal, which was released in January 2015. The president called for the first two-years of community college to be made free, a move that at the time was estimated to have the potential to affect nine million students nationwide. The ACP was believed to be modeled after the Long Beach program, as representatives from the city presented their model to at the White House a month before the president’s announcement.

IntroducingHigherEdBillIntroAB1721The program started in 2008 and allows qualifying students from Long Beach area high schools to attend LBCC for one year without paying tuition, a savings of $46 per unit. The union with CSULB then guarantees transfers to Long Beach students that meet the minimum CSULB requirements.

In its first five-year progress report, the program reported a 500 percent increase in transfer-English success, a 200 percent increase in transfer-math success and 4,000 free semesters of college being awarded. It also showed a 43 percent increase in enrollment for CSULB.

Several cities throughout the state have used the model to try and institute similar partnerships between their educational systems; that list includes San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Riverside.

The two bills are set to be discussed during tomorrow’s assembly sessions, with the deadline for both to make it out of their house of origin slated for next week. As of now, there’s no timetable for when either would be pushed through to the Senate floor, or if either will make it that far. But, together, they could start to build an economic skeleton of a statewide effort to create Promise programs aimed at improving matriculation through post-secondary institutions, with the potential to positively affect statewide graduation rates.

Top, left: Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell. File photo.

Above, left: Assemblyman Jose Medina introducing his California College Promise legislation in January. Photo courtesy of Medina’s Assembly website.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.