The Ontario-Montclair Promise Scholars Program was inaugurated when key community and education leaders came together in October 2011 to address barriers to college and career access and success. At this event they signed an agreement creating a universal PK-16 pipeline and guaranteeing a place in college for all students in the community.
Today, Promise Scholars is the initiative leading Ontario and Montclair towards the college-going culture needed to create long-term change with partners from all sectors, serving 10,000 students each year. In 2016, the City of Ontario deepened its commitment to the students in the community by allocating funds for their new “Ontario Community College Promise,” offering two years of free tuition at a California Community College of the student’s choice immediately following high school graduation.
The Ontario Community College Promise is the tuition component of the Ontario-Montclair Promise Scholars Program which begins helping students see themselves as future college students in elementary school. All 5th-grade students are taken on a tour of the local community college, and parents are also invited in order to help them see college in their child’s future. In 6th grade, local government officials and business people come speak with students about college and possible career trajectories, with a distribution of individuals that have earned certificates, associate’s degrees, and bachelor’s degrees. In middle school, all students take a tour of a four-year institution; learn about financial aid, A-G requirements, and options for majors. Parent workshops are provided from elementary through high school to help them plan and prepare for their students to go to college. In addition to these existing measures, the program is launching a common core curriculum for K-8 classes with integrated discussions about college and career, to take an even greater step towards helping students think through their options and see themselves as college-bound students.
Once students enter high school, the program expands its focus to not only encouraging students to see themselves as college-bound, but also providing critical support to aid students to taking the action steps to getting there. This begins in 9th grade with a personality strength assessment and career exploration activity led by volunteers who share their college and career experience. The high schools provide opportunities for additional career exploration, college research activities, and college level Math and English readiness assessments. Promise Scholars then helps students complete college applications and the FAFSA or Dream Act applications—the completion of which are, aside from the residency requirement, the only qualification to access the Ontario Community College Promise tuition guarantee. The Promise Scholars Financial Aid Campaign and Workshops have led to a community-wide 40% increase in completion of the FAFSA and Dream Act applications, contributing to the college-going culture that the Promise program aims to create. In addition, Promise Scholars hosts Financial Aid Award Letter workshops to help students and parents compare financial aid packages from different schools, so that students have the tools to make the best choice.
These pre-college opportunities are possible through the contribution of the community. Over 200 volunteers, including 15 City staff members volunteer each year at the 6th, 9th, and 12th grade levels of Promise Scholars.
High school graduates who have lived in Ontario for two years prior to their graduation are eligible for free tuition for up to two consecutive years at a California community college of their choice. The requirements for continuing in the program are full-time enrollment, completion of the FAFSA and Dream Act application each year that the student is enrolled, maintenance of a 2.0 GPA in college coursework, and completion of eight hours of community service per semester.
One of the key focuses of the Promise Scholars Program is the need for young students – and their parents – to recognize that there is a place waiting for them in college. This is critical to their planning on and taking steps that are aligned with that goal. The promise program provides this certainty through a signed agreement with Chaffey College that any program participant will be able to enroll as a full-time student at Chaffey College. When combined with the knowledge that the cost of tuition will not prevent them from being able to afford college, this makes it much easier for Ontario’s young students to see themselves as, and plan on being, college-bound.