Photo by Stephanie Rivera. 

Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) seniors will now be offered two semesters of tuition-free education at Long Beach City College, officials with the Long Beach College Promise announced Thursday morning during a community celebration event at the community college.

Along with the added tuition-free semester, LBUSD will expand its early childhood education programs—having already opened 800 additional pre-school seats in the last year—and increase access and professional development facilities with a new facility set to open in 2017, according to a recent annual report.

The added features to the Long Beach College Promise—which offers a seamless educational pathway for local students through incentives, services and support at LBUSD, LBCC and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB)—are what officials see as continued efforts to remove barriers for success.

“There’s nothing more important to strengthen the economy than to focus on education and give everyone access to education,” Mayor Robert Garcia said.

CSULB President Jane Close Conoley cited a recent study that showed the biggest gap in educational attainment is by economic group.

“We have that in Long Beach and we’ve committed to working on it,” Close Conoley said. “It shouldn’t matter if your family is rich or your family is poor, you should still have the same opportunity.”

U.S. Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell, who was on hand for the celebration, believes Long Beach’s pathway from pre-school to a bachelor’s degree and creating off-ramps directly to middle-class jobs and careers is an important focus as President Barack Obama seeks passage of his America’s College Promise proposal, which seeks tuition-free community college.

“It’s been a great model for us as we try to craft America’s College Promise,” Mitchell said. “We hope that when America’s College Promise passes the Congress that that will create an infusion of funds into Long Beach and communities around the country that would expand the ability to access a couple years of free community college.”

According to the LBCP report, 49 percent of LBUSD students meet UC and CSU admission requirements—a seven percent increase over the last four years.

In addition, nearly 12,000 students have received one free semester at LBCC and 77 percent of LBUSD who enroll into a two-year college choose LBCC.

At the university level, four out of 10 LBUSD students choose to attend CSULB, which has increased admission by 35 percent through the Promise.

At the city level, the mayor recently announced a Long Beach Internship Challenge, which seeks to double the amount of internship opportunities for students from 1,500 to 3,000 positions.

For more information on the Long Beach College Promise click here.

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.