Salinas residents band together to advocate for Hartnell College students


By Andrea Valadez

While the main issue during Tuesday’s Salinas City Council meeting was finalizing the 2024 fiscal year’s budget, the theme of the night was advocacy for public programs. No agenda item got as much public comment as the debate concerning the value of Salinas Valley Promise.

SVP provides first-time Hartnell Community College students with financial assistance and one-on-one mentorship. City Manager Steve Carrigan expressed that while he personally supports the program, its current version does not provide significant proof that it is purposeful for the Salinas community at large. The proposed city contribution to the program for the 2024 fiscal year is $177,000.

“This program is like nothing else we have in the region,” said Jackie Cruz, the executive director of the Hartnell College Foundation, countering Carrigan’s argument. While SVP was not on the chopping block for next year’s budget, the city manager aimed to deduce whether or not the funds allocated for the program are justifiable.

“(The council) wanted to make sure that they had enough information to really be clear that (SVP) fits in with the general purpose and that it’s broad enough that it supports the residents of Salinas … I don’t think that’s going to be an issue at all because this program is for over 620 Salinas residents that are first-time, full-time college students. So it’s pretty much open to the public and helps everyone,” she said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, many Salinas residents argued that SVP clearly benefits the city. The goals of SVP are to provide college and vocational training to students, as well as workforce mobility and economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program has various financial resources such as two years of free in-state tuition, regardless of income and the choice between a free laptop or textbook voucher. Students who participate in SVP also have the opportunity to participate in a summer leadership program and a quarterly professional development workshop.

Finally, Promise students receive one year of peer mentorship, followed by a year of mentorship by a local professional or industry leader.

The program’s premise is that if Hartnell is able to actively support students to earn bachelors or vocational degrees, these students will stay in the region and contribute to the economy.

A community member who wished to remain anonymous shared that his experience at Monterey Peninsula College in the 1990s would have been greatly impacted by a program like this one.

“The SVP isn’t just the financial assistance, which a lot of people talked about today. It’s also about the mentorship and guidance that you get, not only from business professionals, but from peers who are also going through the process,” he said.

The value of the program lies in the fact that “the SVP serves students who don’t qualify for financial aid. You can’t get a Pell Grant if you’re an undocumented student. California has made it easier through the Dream Act, but it’s still a tough process to navigate.

“So having an opportunity that’s localized, that is very specific to Salinas Valley students, that’s huge. You have people who are right here, on the ground, that you can go to for help during the process,” he said.

In the end, the Salinas Valley Promise got the $177,000 it had requested, with the entire council voting unanimously for it, staff recommendation notwithstanding.

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About Andrea Valadez

Andrea Valadez was born and raised on the outskirts of Los Angeles and is now a journalism student at Cal State Monterey Bay. She’s the current editor-in-chief of the school’s student-run newspaper, The Lutrinae.