FALLBROOK —In the spring of 2018, when Melissa Barrera was finishing her senior year at Fallbrook High, Palomar College was putting the final touches on an education center in Fallbrook that would bring a range of in-demand classes and programs within reach.

In Barrera’s case, working a part-time job in downtown Fallbrook and without reliable transportation, she said it would have been a stretch to attend classes at the main campus in San Marcos. But with the opening of a Fallbrook Education Center, the pieces came together.

As a recent high school graduate, Barrera was also able to take advantage of the Palomar Promise, joining the second group of college freshmen at Palomar to receive free tuition, textbook assistance, and individualized academic and career counseling.

“With the Promise, you start out ahead,” she said.

The youngest of four siblings, Barrera is a first-generation college student and only the second person in her family to pursue higher education. She grew up in Fallbrook and plans to transfer to a four-year university to pursue a degree in Sociology. Ultimately, she said, she hopes to work at an elementary school—perhaps as a teacher.

“I believe in education,” said Barrera. “Palomar made it possible for me to take my first year of college tuition-free and close to home.”