The California College Promise Grant (formerly the Board of Governors Fee Waiver) was created with students like Parvinder Singh in mind.

The grant has historically waived community college tuition fees for students from low-income households. Governor Jerry Brown’s new Community College Promise expands upon that, eliminating the need criteria and making community college tuition free for any first-year student who’s carrying 12 units or more.

Singh said such a program has made all the difference for him as some poor choices contributed to him living on his own following his graduation from high school. Despite wanting to go to college, the now Merced College sophomore’s priorities became paying for rent and food as opposed to tuition.

“College was always in the picture for me, however, a lot of my life experiences could have easily prevented me from coming to college,” Singh said. “Primarily it was the people who I was surrounding myself with and my source of income. I didn’t know where I was going to be after I turned 18, because my parents didn’t want me at the house anymore.

“So getting that tuition waiver was a blessing, because it allows me to keep studying to my full potential instead of having to split my time working and figuring out how I’m going to pay for school.”

Merced College Superintendent/President Chris Vitelli hopes stories like Singh’s become commonplace as the College prepares for the new Community College Promise to go into effect for the 2018-19 school term.

Brown signed the program into legislation as Assembly Bill 19 in October 2017. The governor has set aside $46 million for the Proposition 98 General Fund to pay for the program in his proposed 2018-19 budget. A revised version of the budget will be released in May and the official budget will come out this summer.

“This is an opportunity for families in and around Merced County to consider college in a new light,” Vitelli said. “The main difference between the new Community College Promise and the old Board of Governors Fee Waiver is it’s no longer need based. Families that didn’t meet the financial criteria, but still didn’t have an abundance of money, had tough choices to make.

“This program opens the door for everyone and we hope the community takes full advantage.”

Sixty percent of Merced College’s students for the 2016-17 school year used the California College Promise Grant to pay for tuition. The Community College Promise should see an increase in those numbers as well as appeal to prospective students from mid-level income households who were on the fence about giving college a try.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 68.6 percent of Merced County residents 25 years or older have at least a high school degree as of 2016, but only 13.7 percent of the county has at least a Bachelor’s degree. The Community College Promise could be a big step towards bridging the gap between those numbers without requiring students to go into major debt. It could be even more advantageous for students who go the vocational rout, as they’d have to pay just one year of tuition before embarking on a lucrative career.