Santa Barbara City College Foundation Provides Vital Aid to Students During Pandemic

More Than $2 Million Quickly Disbursed After COVID Lockdown; Other Aid Programs Continue

SBCC Foundation CEO Geoff Green and former SBCC Promise student Juwan Vega at the 2019 Gala. After two years in the Promise Program, Vega is now at Cal State LA, majoring in business management and working on launching a clothing line. | Credit: Nell Campbell

When the pandemic hit last spring, the Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) Foundation quickly sprang into action, delivering more than $2 million in one-time emergency student grants to 2,335 students. Grants averaging $876 were distributed between March 30 and April 24. The SBCC Foundation was able to quickly disburse funds to meet the immediate needs of students, who were hit with layoffs. The grant disbursal began just 11 days after California Governor Gavin Newsom’s lockdown order was issued. As evidence of the need, on the first day of the program, the SBCC Foundation received 900 applications. It did not turn any students away.

According to Green, many SBCC students work one or more part-time jobs without benefits and live on the economic margin. So pre-COVID, they earned enough just to get by, not enough to allow for savings. Many were employed in the hospitality sector, where layoffs were widespread. Every student who filed an application reported a COVID-related job loss and difficulty in meeting their basic needs.

While some form of state and/or federal aid was expected, Green noted, that would take time whereas the need was immediate. He expressed gratitude to the community because without their support, these critically important grants would not have happened. The SBCC Foundation is a private, independently funded entity.

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The SBCC Foundation closed its program on April 24 as the federal CARES Act funding kicked in April 27. SBCC received $2.89 million in CARES Act funding for emergency student grants. It dispensed $1,000 grants to all eligible applicants — 1,400 students — in May. The remainder of the funding will be disbursed this fall.

The SBCC Foundation was able to act quickly in part because it had strong reserves. In 2017, it received a $6.2 million bequest from longtime donor Laurie Converse, nearly half of which was unrestricted. According to Green, its speedy action was also the result of having a staff of 13 professionals experienced in administering funds and able to fundraise at the same time to bring in replenishment funds for the next school year. Since Green took over the SBCC Foundation in 2015, he has strived, and succeeded, at building up unrestricted assets so funds would be available when needed.

A major component of the SBCC Foundation’s aid is the SBCC Promise, which covers all required fees, books, and supplies of any student who has just completed secondary education in the Gaviota to Carpinteria area. The program launched in 2016, and enrollment has held steady at around 1,700 students each year.

The State of California has long covered the tuition of some low-income students, but according to Green, tuition accounts for only about 20 percent of the costs students face. The SBCC Promise’s coverage of pricey textbooks, fees, and supplies allows college to be an option for many low-income students who otherwise could not attend. SBCC Promise also steps up to cover the tuition of students who earn too much to qualify for the state’s program yet still show significant financial need. These students make up one-third of Promise students.

Green notes that the SBCC Promise, in addition to assisting needy students, is also a stabilizing force for SBCC itself in these challenging and uncertain financial times. Overall enrollment at SBCC dipped about 8 percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020, with significantly larger decreases in out-of-state enrollment (35 percent) and international enrollment (50 percent). Both these latter groups pay significantly more than California students do. The number of Promise students held steady, providing much-needed revenue for the college. This term there are nearly 12,000 California students, about 1,000 out-of-state students, and about 450 international students.

This year is striking not only in the amount of emergency aid that was distributed by the SBCC Foundation, but also in the financial hit the foundation took. Its gala, which last year raised $425,000, will go virtual this year on October 1 and may, as a result, raise fewer dollars. Its small events for major donors — Presidents Circle members — had to all be canceled, and there is uncertainty over the level of support it will otherwise receive from its donors in these difficult economic times. Fortunately, the foundation has reserves to carry it forward.

Last year, the SBCC Foundation distributed a record $7 million in aid directly to students and to programs assisting the most needy: $2.5 million to the SBCC Promise; $1 million in scholarships and book grants; $1.5 million to other programs, and the $2 million in emergency grants.

Courses at SBCC this fall are being taught online. Pursuant to a small exemption provided by the state, the school is working with the S.B. County Public Health Department to develop plans to allow some in-person coursework for programs that support essential and critical infrastructure.

For more info about the SBCC Foundation or to make a donation, go to For info about the Gala, go to

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