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MiraCosta must raise more than $1 million to provide free college

OCEANSIDE — As community colleges statewide gear up to provide two free years of college to first-time, full-time students, some like MiraCosta College are trying to figure out how they are going to pay for the second year.

In early July, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California’s new budget includes two years of free tuition at community colleges. To be eligible, students must be first-time, full-time students taking at least 12 units per semester.

The state already pays for one year of free tuition at its community colleges. Under Newsom’s new budget, the state will provide $42.6 million to cover the second year as well.

MiraCosta is set to provide free college to an estimated 2,200 students beginning in the fall 2019 semester.

Each year, the college is set to receive approximately $1.25 million from the state to fund the program.

That amount will account for about 79% of Promise funding for the 2019-2020 school year, with the remaining 21% ($331,951) coming from the MiraCosta College Foundation.

The 2020-2021 year is when there is a “gap” in funding, according to administrators. The $1.25 million from the state will only provide 47% of the 2020-2021 school year funding.

“That means that we have to come up with that other 53%,” Tim Flood, vice president of administrative services, said at the college’s July 18 board of trustees meeting.

In other words, the college will need to provide approximately $1.4 million to support the Promise program during the 2020-2021 school year.

MiraCosta College has offered its Promise program since 2017. The program was designed to help low-income, recent local high school graduates who become MiraCosta students with financial support during their first academic year there.

The Promise program previously had income requirements attached to it, but now it can apply to any first-time, full-time college student who completes 12 units of classes or more per semester. Students must also be California residents or be eligible under the California Dream Act, and must file a Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or a California Dream Act application (by Sept. 1 for the 2019-2020 school year).

The Promise waives tuition and mandatory fees including enrollment, health and student center fees for two years.

The college has so far funded the Promise program with money acquired through MiraCosta College Foundation fundraising efforts and money from the state.

During a presentation on the Promise program’s changes, Flood explained to the board that the MCC Foundation would so far only cover about 2% of the program’s overall cost that year.

“In year one we spent all the one-time funds, so really all that truly is the interest off the current endowment,” Flood said.

Flood said the foundation continues to raise money.

If there isn’t enough money raised to cover the second year, the college may have to dip into its operational budget funds as a last resort.

Sunny Cooke, superintendent and president of MiraCosta, said that is her “greatest nightmare.”

“That’s a heck of a lot of money,” she said.

Cooke said the college will need a lot of private funds and must do everything it can to not use operational funds.

Cynthia Rice, associate vice president of institutional advancement and executive director of the MCC Foundation, is confident that the college will fill the funding gap.

According to Rice, the foundation is already putting together a fundraising strategy and includes the MiraCosta Promise in its many fundraising campaigns.

Rice added that the foundation had to “swiftly raise” $176,000 to cover the 2017-2018 Promise cost.

“I’m not worried,” Rice said. “Our residents and our donors are generous in this district.”