The issue: Improving access to higher education for local students. Local impact: 250 recent graduates of area high schools are staying close to home and attending COS tuition-free with the Siskiyou Promise grant, while also receiving $200 per semester for books and supplies.

When Syshana Hocker graduated from Mount Shasta High she says she “couldn’t wait to get out of Dodge.” But the promise of free tuition at College of the Siskiyous lured her into staying in her hometown of Weed. Now in her second year at the college, she’s glad she did. She receives about $600 per semester from Siskiyou Promise to cover her tuition costs, plus another $400 per school year for books and supplies.

“It’s a small college, and the classes are small, so it’s easier to have one-on-one communication with your teachers,” she says. “There’s a real sense of community here.” She notes that last year one of her teachers, when she discovered some of her students were having trouble making it to class, organized a car pool. That’s the kind of thing that can happen in a small-town college.

Students like Hocker who graduate from a Siskiyou County (or Modoc County) high school and who enroll the very next year at COS are eligible for Siskiyou Promise grants that can cover their tuition and provide a stipend for books and supplies. Hocker’s sister Mikayla, a year younger, will also be a Siskiyou Promise student starting this fall.

Two of the main goals of the program, according to COS Director of Public Relations & Foundation Dawnie Slabaugh, are to help boost the college’s enrollment and encourage local students to stick closer to home, not rush off to a four-year college that may be a little overwhelming for a young person from a small rural community. “It encourages them to start a little slower,” she notes.

“Siskiyou Promise also helps reduce the struggle for students who need financial help,” says Slabaugh. “It means they can devote their time to studying, not working, and pursue other campus activities.”

Jesse Mullin, a COS theater major starting his second year, spent 12-hour days at the college his first year, what with classes, rehearsals, and studying at the library. There’s also a couple of hours of commuting each day from his home in Etna. With only one working car in the family, that turned out to be a combination of driving and taking the bus, with Grandma sometimes providing taxi service from the Yreka bus stop.

With a family “at the poverty line,” Mullin appreciates any financial assistance he can get to pursue his education and meet the time-consuming requirements demanded of a theater major. Mullin is able to pursue his dream of becoming an actor thanks to grants from the state, the federal government, and Siskiyou Promise, which provides his book money.

Most of the 250 students enrolled in Siskiyou Promise, like Mullin, have their tuition paid by other financial aid resources, while COS fills the gap in unmet need when necessary and provides all of them with a $200 voucher each semester for books and supplies.

“Everybody focuses on the money involved with Siskiyou Promise,” says Mullin, “but for me it’s been the support systems it provides,” which includes the use of computers (there’s only one at his Etna home) and tutors, which he’ll be using for his English and physics classes this year. He’s also been hired to represent the college as a Student Ambassador, recruiting new students in presentations at local high schools and at the Siskiyou Golden Fair.

The Siskiyou Promise program was launched last year and is funded by the nonprofit College of the Siskiyous Foundation. Slabaugh estimates that the program can continue for at least another five years and perhaps longer, depending on the level of private donations received by the Foundation.

For information on making donations to Siskiyou Promise, you can contact Dawnie Slabaugh at 938-5373. You can check out the College of the Siskiyous Foundation website at www.siskiyous.edu/foundation.