Petaluma schools, Sonoma State sign ‘Promise’

“Not only is this great for those students who choose to attend Sonoma State, it also raises the bar as far as what we will expect from students upon entering in 9th grade.” -Superintendent Matthew Harris|

Local students will soon get the chance to be automatically admitted into Sonoma State University thanks to a newly minted agreement between university leaders and the Petaluma City Schools district.

The deal was put to paper during the school district’s Tuesday board meeting, as Superintendent Matthew Harris and SSU President Dr. Mike Lee signed an agreement to enact a “Promise” program – an initiative to guarantee students in Petaluma schools direct admission to the California State University as long as they meet certain requirements like a minimum grade point average upon graduation.

According to administrators, students will be able to begin the qualification process as early as junior high.

“Not only is this great for those students who choose to attend Sonoma State, it also raises the bar as far as what we will expect from students upon entering in 9th grade, and will help us develop a more university prep mindset,” Harris told the Argus-Courier.

Harris said the program is the first of its kind between the Rohnert Park university and any school district. While he did not give a specific start date – Tuesday’s signed agreement was described as an MOU, or memorandum of understanding – he said the program is intended to begin in “the near future.”

Dr. Lee called the program “transformational” as well as “visionary and exciting.”

“This agreement could significantly increase the number of students from Petaluma going to a university,” Lee said in a statement. “But just as important, it would ensure that as Sonoma State increases in enrollment, these students would be secured a spot at Sonoma State University.”

Lee noted that Sonoma State saw a decline in enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that since then local students have made up a larger proportion of the first-year student population.

However, “We are beginning to see an increase in applications, deposits, and enrollments as the pandemic ends and students think again about their college choices,” Lee said. “There is no doubt that our new Strategic Enrollment Management Plan will help us return to our maximum enrollment capacity of 9,000-10,000 enrolled students, but local Petaluma City Schools students will have access to guaranteed admissions” regardless of SSU’s enrollment numbers.

The university lists 20 degree programs eligible for students participating in the Promise Program – from anthropology to art history to English to physics – meaning eligible Petaluma students will be guaranteed a spot in those majors.

Amie Carter, Sonoma County superintendent-elect, also attended the district’s board meeting Tuesday, which reached full capacity in attendance. Carter praised the partnership between the district and university.

“What a great model for our students,” Carter said. “I am so proud of my own children’s Petaluma City Schools’ high school diploma, and this promise agreement is just something really special for Petaluma.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article inaccurately indicated Sonoma State University’s new Promise agreement with Petaluma City Schools was parallel to the California Promise Program.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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