By Tyra Ghamghamy
It was a Friday evening when Andrew Rodriguez’s high school graduation ceremony was held. Among the congratulatory festivities and enthusiastic cheers, however, there was an overwhelming sense of dread and disappointment creeping in,
While others were celebrating the beginning of a new journey, Rodriguez was plastering a smile onto his face and attempting to dismiss his long-time concerns of whether or not he would have a college future of his own.
For most students, the summer before college is a time to share in the bittersweet memories of high school while simultaneously indulging in the exciting tasks of shopping for dorm furniture, school supplies and clothes to represent one’s collegiate pride.
But while others were donning their best university gear and perusing the aisles of endless home décor stores, Rodriguez was tasked with a very different set of responsibilities.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college, but once I graduated high school, I was forced to face the fact that I had become one of those kids that was at the mercy of the financial aid office,” he confesses. “It was so hard to deal with the idea that maybe college wasn’t an option for me, like it was for everyone else at my school.”
After graduating from Valencia High School in 2017, Rodriguez was given two choices: drop out of the education system and work, or struggle through the financial strains of secondary education and follow the path that his peers were pursuing.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, for the 2016-2017 school year, 78% of students pursuing degrees at 2-year postsecondary institutions were awarded some type of financial aid.
This deceptively reassuring statistic, however, did little to lessen the anxiousness felt by students such as Rodriguez, whose chances of receiving financial aid are diminished as a result of his family’s annual income.
“Even when I decided that I wanted to make college work for me, the first step was talking to the financial aid office, and that didn’t go too well,” he says. “The first thing they told me was that my parents made too much to qualify for things like the Pell Grant, but not enough to afford paying for COC out of pocket.. it was just really disappointing.”
After hours of research, endless phone calls, and days spent mulling over his parents’ tax returns, Rodriguez was fortunate enough to come across another student’s suggestion of perhaps one of COC’s greatest resource for students experiencing financial difficulties: the Canyons Promise.
Rodriguez remembers the moment in which he learned of the program, down to the minute: he had been helping another recent high school graduate register for COC classes when she mentioned one of the requirements that the Canyons Promise tasks students with fulfilling.
“She said, ‘I wonder if any of the Canyons Promise counseling classes ever fill up,’ and I remember asking her what exactly the Canyons Promise was and why she was in it,” Rodriguez says. “When she started listing all of the benefits, I could actually feel myself relax a little bit, because it sounded like something that I had been waiting for.. it was kind of like receiving the encouragement I needed to not give up on college.”
The Canyons Promise, originally named the First-Year Promise, launched back in 2017, with 350 students being accepted into the program in its first academic year.
The program offers significant benefits to students who meet certain criteria and qualify on a financial need basis, including a $100 bookstore voucher, a discounted parking pass or bus pass, and perhaps the most exciting of all: two years of waived tuition fees.
“When I heard that the Canyons Promise waived tuition fees for students who got in, I literally saw my future starting to plan itself,” Rodriguez says. “That was when the idea of college started to feel more real than fantasy.”
The Canyons Promise waives tuition fees for first-time, full-time college students attending COC, and the program has grown significantly over the last two years.
After doing his due diligence in researching the criteria for the Canyons Promise, Rodriguez quickly applied for the 2018-2019 school year, and it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off of his shoulders when he received his acceptance email later in the summer.
“I’m going to be the first person in my family to go to college, and it’s thanks to the Canyons Promise that that’s possible,” says Rodriguez. “If this program hadn’t been launched, I don’t know how long I would’ve been out of school, or if I ever would have been able to go to college at all.”
Rodriguez now has plans to transfer to California State University of Northridge in the Fall of 2020, and he credits the Canyons Promise with his simultaneous relief and determination to succeed in the world of secondary education.
He plans to pursue a double major in psychology and biology, and with the weight of financial stress lifted off of his shoulders during his time at COC, he feels confident in his future for the first time since graduating high school.
“There are no words to describe how different things have been since I was accepted into the Canyons Promise,” he says. “It completely changed the course of my education, my career, and the rest of my life.”