Hancock College launches free tuition campaign

Allan Hancock College launched a five-year, $10 million endowment campaign Wednesday while celebrating a key donation to the program that will provide free tuition for local high school graduates next year.

The Hancock Promise pledges the first year free of tuition and fees at AHC, starting with 2018 graduates of public and private high schools in the Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Ynez and Cuyama valleys.

Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo has a similar program — the Cuesta Promise — that offers a free year of tuition to San Luis Obispo County high school graduates. Cuesta has plans to add a second year of free tuition as well.

So far, the Hancock endowment has raised more than $2 million in gifts and pledges.

“We’re off to a great start thanks to our Promise partners,” Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers said.

“This is a great day,” he said.

The Santa Barbara Foundation became an early supporter, agreeing to provide a $250,000 grant to directly pay for tuition and fees for Hancock Promise students, Walthers said.

Ron Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation, said that when Hancock started in 1920, the nation was experiencing waves of immigration and the creation of high schools that some viewed as unnecessary.

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Presenting a $250,000 check are, from left: Barbara Andersen, chief strategy officer with the Santa Barbara Foundation; Lynette Muscio, director of development with the Santa Barbara Foundation; Hancock Superintendent/President Kevin G. Walthers; Kathy Simas, North County director of the Santa Barbara Foundation; Diane Adam, Santa Barbara Foundation board chair; Guy Walker; chair of The Hancock Promise Fund; Ron Gallo, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Foundation; and Sharyn Main, senior director of community investments for the Santa Barbara Foundation.

Contributed photo

“Well, we know who won that argument and for the next 60 to 70 years, the economy, and this country in general, moved forward at an accelerated speed,” Gallo said. “Today, the community college is the high school of a hundred years ago. It is necessary.”

The Santa Barbara Foundation recently adopted a new mission statement: To mobilize collective wisdom and philanthropic capital to build empathetic, inclusive and resilient communities.

“And I can’t think of a program, more so than The Promise, that speaks to that mission,” Gallo said.

The Hancock Promise is not just about giving away free tuition, he said.

“It’s getting attitudes established in young people so they can dream and succeed and come to college and graduate,” said Gallo, adding he was the first in his family to attend college like many of those students at Hancock.

The Hancock Promise involves four steps, aimed at introducing students as young as fifth grade, through Bulldog Bound, to start creating a “college-going culture,” Walthers said.

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Allan Hancock College Superintendent/President Kevin Walthers speaks about The Hancock Promise endowment to provide local high school graduates with free tuition.

Janene Scully Noozhawk

In May, the endowment was kicked off quietly with a donation from Doris Lahr, mother of Hancock board member Larry Lahr.

On Wednesday, Gregory Pensa, a member of the college’s Board of Trustees and the Rotary Club of Santa Ynez Valley, presented a $4,800 donation to the endowment on behalf of the club with the motto of “Service Above Self.”

“Our mission is to help others in the community and in the world,” he said. “We know that The Hancock Promise will impact the community one student at a time.”

He challenged other service clubs — including Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis — to also make donations to the endowment.

The Santa Maria Kiwanis 4 Kids Foundation donated $18,000 to the endowment.

“We know that the Hancock Promise program … will help thousands of students every year receive a college education,” said Maynard Silva, president of the Noontime Kiwanis Club of Santa Maria. “We are proud to support the program that will impact the success of future generations.”

Silva said he knows the value of Hancock’s education since he started there and went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.

Guy Walker, from the Hancock College Foundation board of directors, is spearheading the $10 million campaign.

“This community puts community in community college,” Walker said. “It is a wonderful community. … It’s a five-year campaign, but I am confident it will not take five years. We are off to a rousing start.”

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