By Ashley Stephens

More than 250 students were gathered at the Bob Hope Theater on January 16, waiting for Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs to make an announcement about the future of their education.

Before Tubbs took the stage, motivational speaker Amanda King addressed the crowd.

“How many of you are planning to go to college?” she asked.

Nearly every hand shot up in the air with shouts of enthusiasm.

“How many of you don’t think you can afford to go?” she asked next.

Again, nearly every hand went up, this time, slowly, silently. It was clear that the students’ biggest hurdle was going to be how they paid for college tuition.

Having grown up in poverty himself, Tubbs had a message to help quell their worries. Just 12 years ago as a high school sophomore, Tubbs was consoling his crying mother in his South Stockton home, as she cried over being passed up for a promotion for not having had an associate degree. Tubbs said he apologized to his mother who sacrificed her college education to raise him, but rather than hold this against him, she made him promise that he would never let anything limit his education.

And he didn’t. Despite financial constraints, Tubbs was able to find a way to graduate from Stanford with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, then return to Stockton to help future generations.

“The single biggest, most important investment we can make is in your future,” Tubbs said. “I am proof positive of the return on investment in education.Tuition and fees should not be a barrier to your education.”

Tubbs announced the launch of the Stockton Scholars initiative, a $20 million fund that guarantees students financial help to attend college. Under the plan, students enrolled in a two-year higher education program will receive a total of $1,000 and students enrolled in a four-year program will receive a total of $4,000 to help mitigate education costs.

Students gave a standing ovation to Tubbs’ announcement. “This is so exciting! I can’t wait to tell my mom she won’t have to get a third job,” said a Franklin High School student.

Local universities are pulling for the students too. “We are ready for you,” said Stacy McAfee, Associate Vice President of External Relations of University of the Pacific (UOP), located in Stockton. “We are reserving a seat for you and we are ready to help you take your seat. We are here to make sure you all end up standing at the finish line.”

To present the $20 million check from an anonymous donor, Tubbs brought FUSE Fellow Jason Weiner onto stage. Weiner was hired as a fellow in October to help implement and manage the Stockton Promise Program, an initiative that has been piloted in cities across the country.

The ultimate goal of Stockton Scholars is to secure sustainable funding for higher education opportunities, whether that’s a four-year university, community college or a trade school, according to Weiner.

“The $20 million is an amazing start, but we aren’t stopping there,” Weiner said. Tubbs has set a fundraising goal of $100 million for Stockton Scholars over the next few years.

And they’re getting there dollar by dollar. So far, the team has raised an additional $1 million from local partners. Weiner is guiding city staff through a four-to-five-month design and community engagement phase, led by a Community Action Team of local students, parents, teachers, school district administrators, as well as leaders from Stockton’s higher education partners, to strategize fundraising for the remaining $79 million.

Weiner’s  job will be working to make sure Stockton has all the pieces in place to administer the scholarship and fulfill the city’s promises to Stockton Unified School District students.

Learn more about the Stockton Scholars program here