10 C O L L E G E T O C A R E E R College of the Desert launched its tuition-free plEDGE program, benefiting about 1,000 new students who graduated from local high schools in the spring and began attending COD full- time in the 2017-2018 academic year. The Desert Community College District’s Board ofTrustees then proudly announced in September that the College would extend the plEDGE program, providing current participants a second tuition-free year and 2018 local high school graduates the opportunity to attend COD for two tuition-free years. “We do not want the cost of college to prevent students from pursuing a higher education,” said Superintendent/President Joel L. Kinnamon, Ed.D., who announced the inaugural plEDGE program during his State of the College address in January 2017. “This program helps remove some of the economic barriers to entering the first year of college while also providing critical guidance, skills, and support that is essential to students achieving their educational and career goals,”he said. Students in the plEDGE program must enroll full-time (at least 12 units per semester) at the College; participate in the College’s EDGE (Engage, Develop, Grow, Empower) summer program before their first semester; maintain good academic standing; and participate in 10 hours of community service, mentoring or internships. As is the case across California, many of College of the Desert’s incoming students require remedial classes in math, English or reading/writing before they can enroll in college-level courses. COD responded by creating the EDGE program in 2012 to reduce such achievement gaps and to improvecompletionratesforunderservedpopulations,low-income,andfirst- generationstudents. As a result of the program, many students place at higher levels after reassessment, reducing their time to college completion. “I placed low the first time I took the assessment test. I did it again and bumped up three levels, so it worked out really well,”plEDGE student Luis Macias said. In just five years, the program has grown from a dozen students to 1,250 this year – higher than projections and nearly double the amount from Fall 2016. “The EDGE and plEDGE programs are so valuable to our students and remove some of the biggest barriers students face at College of the Desert - time and money,”said Dr. Annebelle Nery,Vice President of Student Success. College Launches Successful Tuition-Free plEDGE Program for 1,000 New Students “These programs provide our students with support while pursuing their educational goals by starting college prepared, empowered, and connected to the campus community.” That support includes registration assistance, counseling, transfer workshops, career information and financial aid help. EDGE has grown from a summer college-readiness program for first-year students to a multi- year support program. Students have overwhelmingly appreciated the plEDGE’s commitment to reduce some of their economic barriers in seeking a quality higher education. “It’s definitely helping me a lot,”first-year biology majorViviana Dominguez said.“My family has low income, so without the free tuition, I would’ve had to work for the money. So having the free tuition enables me to dedicate myself to being a student full-time.” “The free tuition is covering everything, so that’s less stress, less to worry about. So it’s been great,”first-year studentTiffany Steinlechner said. The plEDGE program convinced freshman ShaneTate to choose College of the Desert. “I most likely wouldn’t have gone to COD without the plEDGE program.That program was a huge incentive,”the Desert Hot Springs High graduate said. “I can now afford to go to college and not worry about how to pay my bills,” Shane said.“The plEDGE program helped me move one step closer to my career dreams and independence.” Anyone interested in donating to plEDGE can do so by visiting www.codfoundation.org and clicking on“Donate”at the top, or by calling (760) 773-2561.