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Fulfilling the YC Promise

Savannah Davis of Prescott Valley is first to graduate under YC’s new tuition-free program

Savannah Davis wanted to study medicine. But she became a pioneer along the way.

"My mom is a nurse," she explained, "and I always got my inspiration from her." At 16, Savannah began concurrent enrollment – taking YC courses while still in high school. "At first, I was a little scared. But they really help you out at YC and ensure you’re comfortable." More than comfortable, she excelled. She aced her classes, outran her own academic timetable, and then christened a revolutionary new program.

In May, Savannah graduated from AAEC High School in Prescott Valley. In July, she graduated from Yavapai College—as the first student to fulfill the YC Promise.

"Hey, I could actually do this"

Inspired by earlier initiatives in Michigan and Tennessee, the YC Promise is a new program that allows Yavapai County students to earn their college degree, tuition-free. Local high school graduates, or those who have acquired their GED, can be reimbursed for their tuition expenses if they complete their YC degree program on time.

"It’s a life-changing opportunity," College President Dr. Lisa Rhine said. "Not only does the YC Promise signal that a high quality college education is attainable, but with all the additional support and services, the likelihood of obtaining a post-secondary degree is also significantly increased."

Savannah has another term for it: "It’s a blessing. AAEC was a blessing. Yavapai College was a blessing, the YC Promise, and everything."

Savannah’s charter school, AAEC, pays tuition for students who take college classes while still in high school. Savannah became a concurrent enrollment student in 2016, with counselors from AAEC and Yavapai College working to keep her on track. She graduated high school just a few classes short of her college degree, and then the Promise kicked in.

"As soon as I figured out ‘Hey, I could actually do this,’ I thought, ‘Take that opportunity and run with it.’" She laughed. With the Promise reimbursement, Savannah’s family can apply her YC tuition costs toward future education expenses. "It’s an amazing thing," Patrick Wellert, Savannah’s AAEC principal, said. "With all the talk going around about ‘free college,’ well, this is free college, and it’s awesome."

Wouldn’t It Be Great If…?

Implemented last spring, the YC Promise is one of only about 200 programs in the nation that gives students the chance to attend college tuition free.

"We want everyone to go to college," YC Finance and Administrative Services Vice President Dr. Clint Ewell explained. "We’re hoping the Promise makes college that much more accessible for those who think college is beyond their financial reach."

The Promise, Ewell said, has been on the College’s wish list for some time. "When I first got to YC in 2010, it was pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if everybody could go to college?’" But Ewell and YC’s executive leadership stuck with the idea. In 2014, they began exploring programs that would offer tuition-free college to certain student populations. "When the Tennessee Promise went public, in 2015, that was a good motivator," Ewell said. In 2016,

YC launched a pilot program for GED students. "Then this year, we determined we could go beyond that and offer The Promise to recent high school graduates."

The Promise could change local education into multiple ways: Students who deemed college unaffordable will suddenly find a degree within reach. College-bound students, like Savannah, can accelerate their education; graduating faster, reaching their goals younger, and rewriting the limits on what they can achieve. The Promise can benefit the community, as well.

"We think there is going to be a tremendous community impact from this," Ewell explained. "Studies have shown that the more people in your community that have a college degree, the better your economy performs." But the biggest change Ewell hopes to see will be in family conversations around the county.

"College was an expectation at my house. We talked about it around the dinner table. Not all kids have that. About one in three Americans have a college degree, so we know those conversations aren’t happening. We’re hoping to change that dialogue."

Big Dreams, Fast-Tracked

The conversation has already changed for Savannah Davis, who has traded Prescott Valley for Flagstaff. In August, she took her goals and her associate’s degree up to Northern Arizona University.

"At NAU, I’m going to major in Biomedical Sciences," she said, "And hopefully, I’ll be able to get that degree in two years." From there, the plan is still forming. "I’m hoping to go to medical school – not sure where I want to go, probably California – after that, I’d like to be a geneticist or a cardiovascular surgeon. Something like that." She laughs.

It has been a whirlwind year, but Savannah is headed north with two diplomas, a love of medicine, and the next challenge in her sights.

"Right now, the plan is to get my bachelors in Biomedical Science. And from there, I can branch off into any medical profession I’d like."

For details on the YC Promise, and eligibility guidelines, visit: yc.edu/promise