BARSTOW — The Barstow Community College Performing Arts Center saw opportunity unfold Wednesday evening as school officials launched a new program designed to make college more accessible to future students.

The mood was jubilant in the PAC as the College Promise pilot program was unveiled  by local school district members. Among those in the crowd were business owners, city officials and community members. The program aims to sponsor 100 local high school students’ first year of BCC tuition to help make college education a reality.

“Education from kinder(garten) to high school is very seamless, but then it stops,” Barstow Unified School District Board of Trustees President Julie Clemmer said. “We want to make going to college just as seamless.”

College Promise is a “last dollar program” that will fund costs not covered by financial aid or other means. High school graduates don’t need a minimum GPA to be eligible but must maintain a 2.0 GPA and full-time status at BCC to remain in the program, school officials said.

Wednesday’s event included discussions on how the program will work, its current and future funding efforts, and how it will boost educational efforts in the region. Community support was lauded as the key as presenters expanded on the program’s potential.

“Nothing this important can be done by an individual or individual entity,” Barstow Community College President Dr. Deborah DiThomas said. “But together, we can make this program a reality for Barstow.”

After brief remarks that included the recognition of several community members instrumental in the planning of the College Promise campaign, DiThomas then left the stage to BCC Trustee Paul Wilkey, whose remarks reflected the campaign’s long-term goals in improving the community.

“If you look at (BCC’s) college rates, you can see we have a lot of room to improve,” Wilkey said. “We want to get those rates up and we want to carry this forward so it’s not just for one or two years. We want the children being born at Barstow Community Hospital right now to have this in their future.”

As a business owner, Wilkey touched on how difficult it can be to bring business to the community, mentioning that College Promise can be an incentive to help change this. He urged fellow business members and the community to support the campaign — sentiments reiterated by his fellow presenters.

The pilot program is initially being funded by a $19,000 state grant the college recently received, as well as donations from local businesses and the community. The college has applied for another $750,000 grant, but continued donations are still being sought — and event presenters did their best to ensure the community would come through.

Toward the end of the event, BCC Board of Trustees President Phil Harris challenged 15 college professors to donate $100, which he would match with an additional $1,500 donation. By the time the event closed, DiThomas proudly stated 11 professors had accepted the challenge.

“We definitely have an issue here in Barstow with valuing education. This program aims to change that, so spread the word,” college advisor and business owner Paul Courtney said. “I hope the next time we gather, this auditorium is full.”

Visit www.barstow.edu/promise for more information on the College Promise program.

Paola Baker may be reached at 760-955-5332 or PBaker@VVDailyPress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DP_PaolaBaker.