About SF Promise

Imagine two children in urban San Francisco today. Both are smart, both are ambitious, both have the same aspirations and potential for future success and both are subject to a barrage of cultural influences with mixed messages regarding success, opportunity, wealth, sexuality, education and work. The first child has no trouble assessing what it will take to survive in the prevailing culture around her. Her realistic assessment implicitly, perhaps consciously, recognizes the dulling cycle of poverty pressing on her. With no apparent way out, this child makes realistic decisions, those generally lacking a sense of hope, to try to survive by acclimating to such surroundings. Unfortunately, these decisions are the ones that can lead to teen pregnancy, substance abuse, criminal/gang activity, dropping out of school and at the very least foregoing higher education altogether to support her family with a lifetime of low income, sustenance level jobs.

The second child makes a similar analysis – but this time, San Francisco Promise enters the equation. A new initiative launched by Mayor Newsom, in collaboration with San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and San Francisco State University (SF State), SF Promise guarantees access to a college education to all students in SFUSD.

The Cost of College

SF Promises
Feb. 3, 2009 Confirmation Ceremony

With SF State’s significantly low tuition and fees, guaranteed access is no guarantee that a student will take advantage of this opportunity due to real and perceived financial barriers.

More than 70% of SF State enrollees from SFUSD receive financial aid, many living well below the poverty line. In turn, the specter of financial barriers can compound other socio-economic handicaps. The City and County of San Francisco, SF State and SFUSD refuse to accept the current statistics for academic underachievement and failure as destiny.

The SF Promise guarantee itself, at current financial assistance levels, will inspire some students. But for most students, we know that this is only “half the equation” – or actually a third of the equation, to be specific. The current total cost to attend SF State is $17,000 including tuition and fees, books, housing and personal expenses. The majority of enrollees from SFUSD, due to their dire economic circumstances, will receive state loans and grants to cover most tuition and fees, today about $5,000 per year.

The funding gap for most students is about $12,000 this next year, or about 70% annually. Even with most SFUSD students being eligible for financial aid, currently only 30% of SFUSD students who are accepted to SF State actually enroll. Of those who enroll, only 50% graduate at all, 44% finish in six years, and only 10% graduate in the “traditional” four-year timeframe. The extraordinarily low graduation rate and high drop out rate among SFUSD enrollees are primarily due to pressure to continue to work and provide for their families, families that are typically single-parent and below the poverty line.

The Promise

SF Promise seeks bridge both the financial gap and to provide a heightened level of proactive counseling about the offer of guaranteed access and how to prepare to succeed with it, including programs on all levels from 7th grade through junior year at SF State.

SF Promise is distinctive among similar initiatives in other regions, and promises to be a national model. What makes SF Promise different is the focus on counseling and support outreach for “underachieving” students with strong indicators of potential, but inconsistent and sometimes perilous academic experiences mostly due to extreme socio-economic challenges – not just students already being tracked successfully for college.