FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Indian River State College staff members are days away from launching the third year of the college's Promise — a tuition-free associate degree program.
"What we're really hoping for Promise is that we get as many students to really take that chance. If you don't quit, we're not going to quit on you," Suzanne Seldes, the associate vice president of communications for IRSC, said. "We're going to give you every opportunity to be successful through the Promise."
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The Promise is for graduating seniors in high school in Indian River, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties who commit to attending IRSC.
In exchange, IRSC offers them a tuition-free two-year, full-time associate degree worth $6,000.
"We’ve got to make sure that we're educating our local students so they will then be educated citizens they will have local jobs they will stay and support our economy," Beth Gaskin, the vice president for student success at IRSC, said.
Gaskin said during the pandemic, starting in 2020, college enrollment declined across the country, including IRSC.
They found only 23% of area high school students were matriculating to IRSC for two years.
In the Promise Program's first year, local enrollment grew to 42%.
Gaskin said since the fall of 2022, IRSC has had 4,300-plus students make the promise with 71% Hispanic and 56% first-generation college students.
Staff said the student body population at IRSC is mostly Hispanic at 42%, then white at 34.6% and Black at 14.6%, followed by Asian at 1.6%, American Indian at 1%, multi-racial at 2.4%, Pacific Islander at 0.1% and unknown at 4.5%.
"When our students come to IRSC, they see each other," Gaskin said. "They see their faculty. They see the staff and they see we all come from different places."
The funding for the Promise Program is all donation-based. That it isn't diversity, equity and inclusion-related, as it aims to serve students of all races, gender or financial status.
Last week, the Florida Department of Education announced it was stopping state and federal funding for DEI programs at state colleges.
WPTV asked what impact that would have at IRSC.
"(We have) one federally mandated staff position tied to Title IX, which is legislation that eliminates sex-based discrimination to ensure all students have access and equality in education," Seldes said. "The college is an open-access institution and makes education accessible for all students. The big headline that said it would adversely affect our funding, well, it doesn't. We fund what is federally mandated and the rest of what we do is to get every individual who is seeking a better future for themselves to this college."
"As a minority student, have you ever felt like you had to overcome any hurdles here or have you felt pretty included?" WPTV reporter Joel Lopez asked IRSC student Juvens Dalger.
"Not at IRSC," answered Dalger.
Dalger is working on his graduate degree after getting his undergraduate degree at a university out of state, which he said was a challenge as a minority.
"You learn to cope with it and you find your communities, right, and they have certain subgroups, resources outlets," Dalger said. "Seeing other people that look like you does help. You have more of a sense of community on campus."
Seniors can take the pledge starting on Wednesday through May 24.
IRSC plans to host a pep rally on Wednesday to kick off the third year of the Promise Program.