Kevin G. Walthers: Two words of advice for high school seniors

Dr. Kevin Walthers

If your child or grandchild is headed to college soon, you understand the financial challenges that college students face.

As a nation, our collective student loan debt is approximately $1.7 trillion. Students at Allan Hancock College, however, can earn accredited degrees — credentials that guarantee transfer to a UC or CSU campus — without borrowing to attend college. Avoiding student loan debt is an incredible promise, but is only a piece of the pledge made by your local community college.

Hancock is a proud participant of the #RealCollege movement, which works to remove all financial barriers to college. Today’s students must navigate a series of hurdles to attend college, much less thrive in their educational pursuits.

University of Southern California sociologist Manuel Pastor points out that although we celebrate those who overcome the odds, too often we neglect the conversation about how we change the odds. That’s a powerful assertion — so powerful that Allan Hancock College is embracing the mantra and announcing a trademarked new tagline: Changing the Odds.

What does it mean to change the odds? It means that when the community has needs, your college is there to fill them. Whether it’s working with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to provide one out of every three COVID-19 vaccinations in Northern Santa Barbara County, or partnering with the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County to distribute groceries to more than 100,000 families, we are there. 

When foster youth need additional support to go to college, we invest in programs to help them succeed. Hancock is establishing programs tailored for student veterans navigating the civilian world, while also supporting our formerly incarcerated neighbors as they return to society. This is what it means to change the odds in our community.

Years ago, community colleges focused on offering classes and student completion outcomes. Today, the role of a community college includes supporting the whole student. And that’s how Hancock is changing the odds for #RealCollege students.

#RealCollege students are often first-generation students lacking the resources to navigate college on their own. Many regularly deal with housing insecurity and more than half experience food insecurity each year. A small investment in #RealCollege students will pay dividends quickly. That investment? Education. Credential-earners are more likely to be employed and less likely to need public assistance.

To support #RealCollege students, Hancock offers a myriad of programs. All high school graduates in our district are eligible for the Hancock Promise, a public/private partnership that guarantees one year of free tuition. Over the next two years, we are using federal COVID-19 support funds to offer free tuition to all full-time students through a program we’ve named “Promise Plus.”

We’ve expanded classes offering free textbooks and, with the support of the Allan Hancock College Foundation, purchased a full set of reserve textbooks that any student can access through the libraries on the Santa Maria and Lompoc campuses.

A new health and wellness center will soon offer basic medical care, a free food pantry, and laundry facilities for students. Our emergency grant program helps students with unexpected expenses, job loss, or unforeseen circumstances that could cause a student to drop out. 

Our housing program matches students with preferred providers who will rent by the bed, and our emergency housing program provides a short-term safety net for those in crisis. And to put even more money behind our mission, we just hired a new Basic Needs Coordinator whose job is to ensure that students have knowledge and access to the financial resources for success.

Many of us experienced college much differently than today’s #RealCollege students. We could work a single part-time job and pay rent, tuition, and costs associated with attendance. A Pell Grant meant a little extra spending cash. Those days are gone. Community college provides amazing value, but today’s living costs set insurmountable barriers for too many students.

At Allan Hancock College, we are committed to Changing the Odds for our #RealCollege students. We are grateful for the community’s support in meeting the challenge.

Kevin G. Walthers, Ph.D., is the superintendent/president of Allan Hancock College. The time capsule ceremony video and contents are available at