First Year of Community College May Soon be Free

First Year of Community College May Soon be Free

Sacramento–California residents may soon be able to complete their first year at a community college free of charge. 

Last week, legislation waiving first year community college tuition for all California residents who elect to attend school full-time was moved to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature. 

The measure, Assembly Bill 19 (AB19) could create college opportunities for several thousand additional students each year, regardless of financial need. The new program is identified as the California College Promise. 

The legislation is promising for potential students because it would allow community college districts to waive the $46 per unit fee for all first-time resident students enrolled in 12 units or more per semester during their first year. However, importantly, AB19 currently has no funding stream. For the bill to work, it needs money from the state, but the state Department of Finance (DOF), which Governor Brown looks to for fiscal guidance, voiced its opposition to the measure in early July. 

In analyzing the measure, DOF noted that despite the “laudable practices and principles required of participating [community college] districts,” it opposed the bill because it expands financial aid to students without a demonstrated financial need. The DOF said this practice is inconsistent with the Administration's effort to target financial aid to the state’s neediest students, and because it creates significant new and ongoing Proposition 98 General Fund costs that are not included in the Budget Act of 2017. 

Some community colleges already have similar "promise programs" that offer free tuition to their students including the Cities of Long Beach and Palm Springs. However, these programs are only offered to local high school graduates. 

As of Monday night, it remained unclear as to whether the Governor would place his signature of approval on the legislation.

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