San Mateo County grants $2 million for SMCCCD Promise Scholar Program

500 perspective students in the program will be awarded free education


Steven Rissotto

San Mateo Board of Supervisors President David J. Canepa awards a check for $2 million to SMCCCD’s Promise Scholar Program

The San Mateo County Community College District has received a $2 million grant from San Mateo County to send 500 incoming students to school tuition-free, district and county officials announced Monday during a press conference at Skyline College.

David Canepa, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, made the announcement in front of county and district officials, along with a small group of students. Canepa cited the transaction as a key part of the county’s COVID-19 response and education relief plan.

“We talk about equity and we talk about issues,” Canepa said. “This community college district is at the forefront of making sure our young adults and adults have the opportunity.”

The investment will be for those students who choose to enroll in the district’s Promise Scholars Program, which offers up to three years of scholarship and comprehensive support for first-time, full-time students. The goal of the program is to take the financial burden off of students, in an effort to help them concentrate on academics and their future endeavors, rather than having to worry about transportation costs and textbook fees.

“The county has given a big vote of confidence in our community colleges, and especially our local students,” said SMCCCD Chancellor Michael Claire. “We know this program works, and we know this funding will help educate critical workforce for San Mateo County.”

The program features 150 students per counselor. This allows students enrolled to stay on top of their academics and reach out for extra support if needed.

“Basically the advantages that they have are so much more assistance to them,” said Tom Nuris, SMCCCD Board of Trustees president. “It allows them to feel confident that they have support throughout the district, and it’s been very successful up to this point.”

According to Nuris, students in the Promise Scholars Program are more than twice as likely to graduate from college in two years compared to other students.

“Let’s not make assumptions that our young adults don’t need help — They need help right now,” Canepa said. “And so, giving free community college gives people the opportunity, whether you’re in building trades, whether you want to be a mechanic, whether it’s being in respiratory therapy, whether it’s going to a four-year university. Community college is where it’s at, and free community college is about giving a hand up.”

Along with the rest of the country, community colleges in California have experienced their fair share of struggles during the pandemic. According to the California Community College Board of Governors, enrollment has decreased during the pandemic as a result of the economic collapse and lack of interest in distance learning.

“We know the pandemic and what has happened during the pandemic: job loss, families just trying to get by, long lines of people trying to get food because of food insecurity, housing — The rents were already outrageous before the pandemic,” Canepa said.

Canepa was joined at the press conference by Mario Guzman, a Skyline student who is currently enrolled in the program and is planning to attend a four-year university in the fall. Guzman moved from El Salvador to Pacifica five years ago, and has an interest in digital arts. He found a job in the marketing department at Skyline, receiving real-world work experience.

“As an El Salvadoran immigrant and first-generation college student, I can confidently say that the Promise Scholar Program is the best thing that could ever happen to me,” Guzman said. “It has empowered me and helped me to figure out what I want to do moving forward.

Canepa says the county will work to continue this flow of funding towards the district. The application for the fall Promise Scholars Program is currently open, and students can apply after applying to one of the three district colleges.