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San Diego Promise program offers free tuition and hope to community college students

Roland Lizarondo
Brenda Martinez at home studying online for classes to become a drug and alcohol counselor, December 15, 2021

In the midst of the COVID crisis, there is some hope for community college students who could use a helping hand. Applications are now being taken in the San Diego Community College District for the San Diego Promise program. Promise pays two years free tuition and grant money for textbooks through state and local funding.

The Promise program is available to eligible high school graduates or GED students attending San Diego City, Mesa, Miramar or the Continuing Education community colleges. Private donations also fund students who are veterans, undocumented or come from foster homes.

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Brenda Martinez is already in the Promise program. She is in her second semester as a San Diego City College student. COVID has forced much of her learning to be online. She spends time studying at her kitchen table where she spends time with her son Giovanni, 12.

“Being part of Promise has allowed me not to worry and not have that stress over my head,” she said, “stress about, 'Am I going to have enough money for this or enough to buy my kids clothes.'”

Martinez’s story also includes a younger daughter, Genavee, 4. She is working to gain custody of Genavee while studying at City College to be a drug and alcohol counselor. The single mother is in recovery from substance abuse. She said, “I just know I’d be good at that job. I know I have passion for the addict, the loss, and for the people who are less fortunate.”

Brenda Martinez
Brenda Martinez celebrates Christmas and her success with her boyfriend, Mark Silverio, and her two children, Genavee,4, and Giovanni, 12. December 25, 2021

“The San Diego Promise is a life-changing program that ensures that any student who would like to earn a college degree can do so regardless of their financial situation,” said SDCCD Chancellor Carlos O. Turner Cortez. “I encourage those who are able to take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity as they embark on their academic journey.”


Luke Menchaca is the Promise Program Director, who works directly with students on all the district’s campuses. “We want them to come here, we want them to be successful,” Menchaca said, “and we want them to finish as soon as they can and either transfer to a university or get into a career they want to go into so they can impact themselves, their families and the people around them.”

Students must be a California resident or AB 540 (nonresident tuition exemption) eligible, complete a 2021-2022 FAFSA or California Dream Act application, and enroll and complete a minimum of 12 units each semester to meet eligibility requirements.

San Diego PROMISE program offers free tuition and hope to eligible community college students

Once accepted, students must attend a Promise orientation, sign a Promise contract (electronically), maintain a 2.0 college GPA, meet with a counselor each semester, and complete a comprehensive education plan.

Brenda Martinez made a promise to herself, as well.

“I promised myself that I wouldn’t quit. I promised myself that no matter what it takes. I have to get there,” she said.

For more information on the program and how to apply, visit and click on the San Diego PROMISE tab.