Hancock College has been named a finalist for a national award recognizing outstanding and innovative programs and practices at community colleges.

Established as part of the Community College Futures Assembly, a consortium of academic academic institutions and sponsored by the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Florida, the 2019 Bellwether Awards recognize programs and initiatives across three categories: Instructional Programs and Services; Planning, Governance and Finance; and Workforce Development.

Hancock College was nominated for the Hancock Promise, its four-phase outreach and student support program, and is one of 10 finalists vying for the award in the Instructional Programs and Services category. The college had been invited to apply twice before, according to Hancock College President/Superintendent Kevin Walthers, but 2019 marks the first time it has been named a finalist. The winners were set to be announced Tuesday.

"It really shows that the things we're doing are innovative and cutting-edge," he added. "It's nice to have faculty and staff that are willing to do things that are recognized nationally. It'd be nice to win, but to be put in those 10 finalists is already an honor."

The college introduced the Hancock Promise and its associated outreach and support programs — Path to Promise, Bulldog Bound and Extended Promise — in August 2017. At the time, administrators hoped the program would create a college-going culture for local elementary, middle and high school students; remove a financial barrier for local high school graduates by providing them with the first year's tuition, fees and additional support services; and support second-year college students with additional guidance and resources.

"We're seeing a 50-percent increase in the number of low-income students that are enrolling directly out of high school," Walthers said, noting that in its first year, more than 1,400 local high school graduates enrolled at Hancock for the fall 2018 semester. The number of first-time high school graduates enrolling at the college also has increased by roughly 500 students.

"That was the goal, to let low-income students know that if you come to Hancock, then we have resources available to make sure you can go to school," he added. "If we market this in the right way, students will realize they can go to college."

Walthers said that under the Hancock Promise, students are not only enrolling in a greater number of units but more students are returning to class for the spring semester than in years past. "We think we're on a good path of getting those students to graduation," he added.

Two other California colleges — Evergreen Valley College in San Jose and Pasadena City College — are competing in the same category. 

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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