COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A free college program for Columbus City School graduates is making a difference when it comes to young people pursuing higher education.

The Columbus Promise Program, started in 2021, is a public-private partnership to cover tuition and fees for Columbus City school grads who enroll at Columbus State Community College. And city leaders said it’s making an impact: CCS grad enrollment at Columbus State has more than doubled in one year.

Adamari Hernandez studies computer science at Columbus State. Because she is a Columbus Promise Scholar, her tuition is free.

“When I first heard about it, I thought there was something to it, I was like, ‘What’s the catch?’ ” Hernandez said.

Earlier this week, the city of Columbus released new statistics showing the program has doubled the number of CCS grads enrolling at Columbus State — 629 this year compared to 313 in 2021.

“What it did for me was validate what we knew was true — if we give our young people a handout, the option, they will stand up and say they want college and they want the affordability,” said City Council President Shannon Hardin.

The city’s statistics also showed that about 80% of the scholars qualified for Pell Grants — the federal government’s primary financial aid for low-income students. Hardin said FAFSA applications were up nearly 40% for Columbus students, while the state’s demand for financial aid increased 1%.

Hernandez said the program takes pressure of financial burdens off her shoulders, Before learning about the program, she took a gap year after high school to save up money.

“I was thinking about working for school but now I don’t have to really worry about it,” Hernandez said. “That really helped out a lot, because I don’t think I would have gone back to school even if I took a gap year.”

Hardin said he hopes the program’s success inspires the next group of graduates to consider Columbus State.