By Gina V. Ramsey
For almost three decades, Long Beach has been a city at the forefront of providing every district student access to higher education in preparation for life. In the early 1990’s, Long Beach was grappling with several economic and demographic issues. When then Mayor Ernie Kell and community leaders came together to form a plan for city economic development, they made sure to emphasize the significance of education as a “pre-requisite to economic growth.”
This led to The Long Beach Education Partnership with the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), Long Beach City College (LBCC), and California State University Long Beach (CSULB), which later became known as the Seamless Education Partnership. Out of this Partnership came several ‘signature programs’ including the Long Beach College Promise in 2008, an ‘initiative where the three sectors promise all LBUSD students the opportunity to receive a college education, including early and continued outreach for students and families, support for multiple college pathways, guaranteed college admissions at CSULB for students who complete minimum requirements, and two years of tuition-free education at LBCC.’
Planting the Seeds Early
District students are made aware of The College Promise Program as early as 4th grade with campus tours to LBCC and CSULB, which is about the time Liliana Martinez first heard about it as a student at Emerson Parkside Academy. The Long Beach native then attended Stanford Middle School and graduated from McBride High School in 2021.
“I have a community here,” said Liliana, who is in her first year at LBCC where she is studying communications. Staying in Long Beach for her college education has helped her “grow and stay on track because of that community.”
Aiding students to stay on track is the main objective of the Promise program, according to the program’s interim director Elijah Sims.
“Our goal, really, is to make transitions and the academic experience as seamless as possible,” Sims said. “The goal is to take the ‘luck’ out of the college experience so that student success isn’t dictated by whether or not they run into the right people at the right time. Instead we send the right people at the right time to students to help them along the way.”
Eyes on the Prize
One of the biggest draws to this program are two free years at LBCC, which was definitely a top attraction for Liliana, and for Max Baddiley, another first-year student at LBCC, when considering the college journey.
“It was definitely an offer I couldn’t pass up,” Max said.
Max, a history major, attended schools in the district most of his life.The 2021 Lakewood High graduate recalls ‘a lot of talk’ in his junior and senior years about this incentive, and based part of his college decision on it.
“[The two years of free tuition] relieved me of a lot of stress, but also will prevent debt for the future,” Max said. The proximity to his home was another big reason he chose LBCC.
“I wanted to stay local, even with other school offers. I have a close connection with my family.”
Financially, Max has been able to save for “a rainy day,” and for other school expenses such as textbooks. Staying local has given him more of an opportunity to connect with his community and discover the many options for local scholarships and to “stay on track” in regard to his major.
“Especially with the College Promise, it has really helped me map out what and where I want to take classes whether on-line or in person,” he said.
For Liliana, the advantages of staying local and saving money were influences in her decision as well. She knew she wasn’t ready to leave her family right out of high school. Attending LBCC, however, has provided the right environment for her to grow and “heal and be a better person.”
“I’m more comfortable reaching out and trying new things because I’m still in my home city. I’m in my comfort level, I feel safe,” she said. “And I’m saving for tuition when I’m ready to transfer. Plus, I have money to go and hang out with friends. It’s the little luxuries.”
The concept of the Promise is to offer the opportunity of a college education to every district student and in turn create a more ‘vibrant community by transforming the lives of students and the city’s economic future,’ per their site.
“At the center of a strong city is a strong educational system,” said Mayor Robert Garcia in a Promise program video.
The Promise has expanded its partnerships from the district, LBCC, and CSULB, to include the City of Long Beach and the Port to ‘enhance opportunities for Promise participants’ by developing internships and job opportunities.
“We try to meet you where you are and help you succeed, and ideally, help you reach your goals,” said Sims.
A Culture of Commitment
Liliana, who has considered other universities (such as UC Irvine, UC San Diego, even UCLA), is still leaning toward CSULB. Her experience within the Promise program has been so positive, she plans to continue college in her hometown, where she has learned so much independence. During her first year in LBCC, she experienced situations that confirmed she made the right choice.
“I was unsure about a program I was considering, and I went in to talk to a counselor. I felt listened to and cared for,” she said. “I’ve also used their mental health services and because of them I haven’t felt as emotionally distressed; I’ve felt an improvement overall.”
Liliana is also a part of LBCC’s Outreach Department as a peer adviser, which has connected her to the campus even more. She has led campus tours giving her the chance to share her experience with prospective students.
“I enjoy showing them where I take my classes, and my favorite spots to study or eat lunch on campus,” she said. “I feel that LBCC genuinely cares for their students. When the library closes late during finals so that students can have a place to study, the staff will wish me good luck on my finals at just the exact time I need it. [LBCC] offers so many resources like the tutoring center, career and resume help. It’s just been a really cool experience.”
“CSULB is one of the most popular transfer destinations, period, in the state’s CSU system,” Sims said. “[For example] Liliana is kicking some butt! She’s got a strong GPA and could transfer to any school she wants. The fact that she’s choosing CSULB is really a testament to how good CSULB is.”
Home Sweet Home
For both Liliana and Max, the one main drawback to choosing the Promise route was not going “away” to a bigger name university and traveling. However, for neither of them is traveling a priority right now. Both cite strong family and community ties as well as school affordability as more important.
“Some of my high school classmates were like, ‘Oh no, I wouldn’t go to community college, but you go ahead, Lili.’ Well, okay sure, I’ll be over here saving money,” Liliana laughed. “One big pro is with the 2 years of free tuition [at LBCC], already half of my B.A. will be paid for when I transfer, and I’m saving money on housing.”
Max also states that college life is not the same as being a high school student.
“There’s a sense of community that college provides with more activities and clubs, more experiences,” he said. “You get a chance to meet many people of many different backgrounds. It’s a much more open and accepting place.”
And for any high school student learning about the College Promise program, Max advises to seriously consider it.
“It’s an opportunity that you shouldn’t pass up,” he said. “You’re being handed something on a golden platter that you shouldn’t take for granted.”