Woodward graduate Cecilia Gonzalez is college-bound — something she once thought was unaffordable.
But the 18-year-old will begin studying criminal justice and business in the fall semester, all because of a tuition waiver through Owens Community College.
“Honestly, I had no idea,” Gonzalez said. “I was completely lost and freaking out. I wasn’t sure what I could do. I knew if I went to school, I would have to work extra hard to get money.”
Gonzalez plans on attending Owens for two years and then transferring to a four-year college, followed by law school.
She wants to become a lawyer and open her own hair salon.
The 2008 graduating classes of Woodward and Findlay high schools have the opportunity to go to college for free. Owens Community College is offering students at both schools three years of tuition-free education.
Students graduating from either school who are eligible for some federal aid will have the remainder of their tuition covered by the Owens Community College Foundation, said Ann Savage, foundation president and chief executive officer.
The tuition waiver is a part of Owens’ Success Program, and 39 students at Woodward are taking Owens up on the offer.
Woodward was chosen as the first school to be a part of the program because they collaborated with Owens before with the GEAR UP program, which prepares high school students for college, Savage said.
“Another reason is because it is a school where fewer students go to college,” Savage said.
For Woodward graduates, there is the Summer Bridge to Success Program, which helps the incoming freshman class transition into college.
The seven-week program began on June 16 in which students take a math course and a first-year experience course, said Tamara Williams, Owens’ dean of academic services and the program director.
“The tuition for the classes are covered, as well as the textbook costs. There is a lunch stipend and transportation to Owens is provided,” Williams said. “There is no cost to the students at all.”
Each student is also assigned a faculty mentor who will sit down with the student and discuss life issues and career goals, Williams said.
The students also received a free iPod, which can be used to listen to their instructors’ pod casts.
The Summer Bridge to Success Program has helped Gonzalez feel more at ease about college, and she is ready for it to start.
“I’m excited and nervous,” Gonzalez said. “I have a whole lot of mixed emotions, but now there are some people I know and I work in their enrollment office so I feel more comfortable.”
Savage said she would like to see the Success Program expand over the next few years to cover the tuition of all graduating high school students in Lucas, Wood and Hancock counties, as well as students in some schools in Ottawa and Sandusky counties.
Williams also wants the Success Program to motivate students to graduate from high school by giving them something to look forward to after graduation.
“We want to get them to stay in high school, graduate from high school and then go to Owens,” Williams said.
Owens is giving students an opportunity they may not have had otherwise, Williams said.
“Access is key, but completion is critical,” Williams said.